dimanche, août 16, 2009

Influenza Now and then

Do you know the Swine Influenza?

Of course you do. It is a pandemic, so wherever you live, you probably heard of it, because there are cases next to your door, too.
I admit that I am getting a bit tired from all those daily panic-news. Be it on Yahoo, TV, the newspaper or wherever. There are even posters at our post-office, advising people to wash their hands. Recently, a TV-Commercial promoting some cleaning product stated that it would help prevent Swine Flu. Countless ads want you to buy their "100% natural and effective" product against Swine Flu. "Protect yourself from Swine Flu N5N1" says a french google ad. Well, it's H1N1 by the way...

I hate how the hype begins to take effect even on me. When I was in Basel and someone in the Tramway or in a store coughed, I immediately thought « Shit, hope he/she doesn't infect me with swine flu ».

At the filling station, the employee seemed to know what I was thinking and apologized his coughing with « I swallowed something wrong, I am not ill !», needless to say that I was embarrassed. This goes way too far.
Especially when we consider that at this state, the Swine Flu seems to be particularly mild. There are death casualties, but in no way as high as there use to be in “normal” flu-season every fall and winter. Think of.
Around 4000 people die every year from normal flu in France – nobody gives a fart about that. ONE person died so far from Swine Flu in France and the whole country is in panic.

I really don't want to downplay the threat. I know that Influenza is a serious illness. I survived two in my life and it wasn't fun.

Maybe the fear of Swine Flu, which, by the way, is a misleading name, since it isn't exactly the the classic porcine Influenza, but a new strain of H1N1, comes from the fact that a H1N1 Virus variant was also the cause of the 1918 pandemic, called “spanish Flu”.

The spanish Flu was always a particular historical interest of mine, since my family is somewhat tied to it in an odd way: My grandfather who was 18 by then, was the only survivor of his whole school-class. “I never could go to class reunions” he said “because all my class mates died from spanish influenza." He watched several of them die. “One climbed in the tramway and seemed to be perfectly ok, when he suddenly felt dizzy. Then he had his nose bleeding. When leaving the tram, he fell out on the street and was dead”.

My grandfather had been a frail, skinny young man with a weak health. To him, it was very odd that all his friends who were so much stronger and healthier than he died of the Flu, all while he survived.

Normally, Flu is supposed to kill first the weak, the little children and the elderly. Spanish Influenza preferred to take away young healthy people from 20 – 40. My grandfather never could explain the phenomenon. Nowadays, it seems that the mystery is solved. It looks like the Virus caused a cytokine Storm in the body (overreaction of the immune sytem) and people – especially those who died quickly and violently with bleeding out from mouth, ears and eyes - perished from the cytokine storm. Young, healthy persons had stronger immune system, this is why they were more likely to develop a cytokine storm, while weaker persons like my grandfather had less risk to see their immune system go crazy.

Strange how, for a change, it was an advantage to be weak.

The 1918 pandemic was pretty much forgotten during a long time. The public awarness of that tragedy - that most likely killed more people in one year than the whole WW1 did - seems to re-arise today. Probably because of the danger of a new pandemic. Well, the new pandemic is here, no doubt, but let us keep this in mind: the actual swine Flu isn't nearly as deadly and nasty as was the 1918 H1N1 which is still the most vicious Influenza virus ever known in modern times. No match for the today's Swine A/H1N1. But of course, One never knows if this little bastard mutates and then...

By the way: There is apparently still an open question on where the 1918 H1N1 came: While Wikipedia English says that it has been a porcine Virus, the German Wikipedia claims that research suggests that it evolved directly from an avarian Strain. Well, who knows...

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