Flu goes critical in Australia
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General, Margaret Chan has said that the four fold increase in H1N1 outbreaks in Australia (from 250 to 1200 in one week) indicate that the flu has become a pandemic. So far there are 30,000 cases in the world with 258 deaths.
More, but not more deadly?
So far, the new flu has been fairly mild, with only relatively few deaths. It might spread quickly around the world this fall and winter resulting in millions of cases, but only a few thousand deaths.
Or, it might become more dangerous. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the head of the WHO's global influenza program, indicates that the flu is indeed evolving, becoming more efficient, but even so, it might not become deadly.
As the Prospect has reported previously, diseases caused by viruses and bacteria are very flexible. An example, is cholera, which, when its primary mode of transportation in the population is water, is very deadly. However, when the water system is cleaned up, and cholera is transmitted from person to person, it becomes fairly mild, killing only a few. It turns out that killing your host isn’t always a good idea for a disease.
We can continue to hope that the disease will remain mild.
What can we do?
Naturally, the disease doesn’t "want" anything; it is simply billions of little DNA packets replicating itself. Each generation changes slightly, and if a change brings about success, it will appear often in the population. What determines the course of the pandemic is the strain or variant that is most successful.
Ironically, the best thing we can do to prevent the flu from becoming dangerous might be to avoid getting it. It is possible that if the disease has a hard time to spread, it might effect its victims less, making them less sick and more likely to move about and spread the disease.
We also remember that the flu doesn’t so much kill you as your body kills itself trying to stop the flu.
Doing your part
If you get a flu, any flu, stay home. Wash your hands often, avoid "sneeze blast" from sick people (it can enter through your nose, mouth or eyes, so cover your face!).
We’ll keep you posted!