By Jon Moser
The notion of an almighty flu pandemic has been looming over the world for ages, a sort of fearsome spectre, an entity that terrorizes and deters. For millions of people, every time they hear the word “swine flu” it becomes not only a scary-looking pandemic but a fear that they themselves could become the infected. Those fears now can be confirmed as we follow the sequence of the H3N2 virus that infected humans in 2013. It has now spread outside of Mexico and North America, now affecting Asia, Europe and Africa and hitting other flu viruses, including avian flu and the human flu of which the H3N2 is now the most related strain. This is a dangerous period for mankind. Only the strongest nations will survive the fight back against a truly devastating flu pandemic and even then the result may not be good. So, if you’re a Government, would you want your citizens to believe in a vaccine for flu, or would you rather they just lay down? There are sound reasons why public trust in vaccines and their support for immunisation has risen over the past decades, both because the science behind them is now so clear, but also because the issues at stake in a pandemic are so serious.
Here are eight ways we can prevent the next pandemic:
First, our health-care systems have improved so much that most of the cases of illness are mild enough to avoid hospitalisation. This means that any pandemic actually needs only to be mild, that “general only”, where it affects only the aged and disabled, in order to have the least of an impact.
Second, in a pandemic, a lot of people will not be able to work, hit the shops, go out to eat, or do many of the things that we do every day, but in the end we can depend on Government to fund reasonable vaccinations and enough supplies to ensure that we don’t face shortages of medical supplies, such as blood.
Third, since we know that people tend to develop influenza with increasing age, there are plans to ensure that older people get their regular doses of the vaccine. The more such regular doses, the greater the safety, efficacy and efficiency of a vaccine.
Fourth, children get recommended shots of vaccines by doctors and parents, in contrast to adults who get them for seasonal flu only. In a severe disease (like the 1918 pandemic), if a child gets the full doses of the vaccine, and can avoid other traditional medicine, the doctor’s office visit and hospital admission may not be necessary.
Fifth, flu vaccine is now taken a few weeks before leaving school, as in Australia.
Sixth, Australia has a trained and skilled medical teams to manage any flu outbreaks in hospitals.
Seventh, every child in any school, and nursing home in Australia should get influenza vaccination and we need to educate parents, so this happens.
Eighth, within the Government there is a clear plan in place for life-saving vaccination before and after a pandemic begins.
Nine, pandemic flu or even a wild flu pandemic will then spread across the global ocean and could kill millions. Modern disease eradication efforts, such as the polio eradication program, have stopped the spread of polio from India to, currently, Bangladesh and Nepal. So far, so good.
10, once it starts, pandemic influenza has little to do with human origin and is a largely microbial problem.
Our immune system can fight pandemic flu with limited inconvenience. It may have to fight off the pre-influenza infection as well as the pandemic itself, but if we can make a shot now and administer it before flu spreads, we will have a much better chance of stopping the spread of the pandemic. People may die anyway, but if we can get them in treatment to benefit early enough we can reduce the overall death toll.
If our Government wanted to take the risk of a pandemic much higher, if it wanted to be prepared, could it do it and do it quickly enough to cope with an attack? Of course we can’t know in advance how hard it will be to react to a pandemic, if and when one happens. But we do know one thing about pandemics that we would all want to try to prevent: over the millennia human population has grown, and so have our social means of resistance to disease, nature doesn’t make anymore great waves on planet Earth that would soon start to overwhelm our defences.