Chapter 11: The responses of governments and other organisations to the threat of new strains of influenza each year...
By Ali Awan and Nathan Leung
The flu virus (influenza) is notorious for constantly changing slightly. If you have had flu in one year, you may not be immune from having it again the next year because the flu virus will be different - the lymphocytes that killed it last time won't have any effect this time... Flu is especially dangerous because it spreads easily and rapidly from person to person. Read about the 'Spanish flu' strain of influenza below and its pandemic effects.
The UK government encourages elderly people to be vaccinated each year against the type of flu virus that is currently likely to cause infections but it is difficult to keep up with the virus's constant changes, and a vaccination that works against one strain of flu will be useless against another. The drugs Tamiflu and Relenza can be used to reduce the severity of symptoms and length of infection with flu. However, there is now evidence that flu viruses are developing resistance against these drugs.
Scientists fear that the strain of influenza called H5N1 (avian flu) will cause the next major flu pandemic. More than half of people infected with the virus die. The article below suggests we are only 5 mutations away from this virus spreading easily among humans.
There is also a documentary on this strain of influenza below if you wish to watch it ( I suggest watching it at 19:00 mins onwards)
WHO (World Health Organization is monitoring the situation closely, and encouraging governments where the disease has occurred to share their statistics and knowledge with other countries. If everyone works together, then we may be able to develop vaccines that could protect many people. WHO tries to get everyone working together for mutual benefit. They have published a document with a series of recommendations for governments to follow if the disease does break out. This includes keeping humans away from infected poultry to minimize the number of occasions on which the virus gets into humans in the first place; keeping records of who is infected and where; developing and stockpiling vaccinations; and sharing information and communicating with other countries. More information can be found by clicking on the WHO logo...
Despite these efforts, WHO estimates that even if these guidelines are followed, if there was a pandemic of H5N1 then between 2 million and 7 million people might die.