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Flu Pandemics

D 18 octobre 2009     A Englishpager    

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Several times a century, flu viruses mutate so radically that they can trigger a pandemic. Influenza may go all the way back to the dawn of medicine ; a similar illness was first described by Hippocrates, in Greece in 412 B.C. In 1485, a flulike "sweating sickness" swept across Britain, leaving many dead.
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The latest pandemics, in 1957 and 1968, were mild, with global death tolls of about 2 million and 1 million, respectively. But doctors live in fear of a killer like the 1918 Spanish flu, which caused up to 100 million deaths. Undertakers were so overwhelmed that corpses were left inside homes for days. Cities passed laws requiring citizens to wear masks in public places, but the virus defeated that barrier ; little stemmed the spread of the disease. From 1917 to 1918, average life expectancy in the U.S. dropped an amazing 12 years. Cruelly, the 1918 virus was particularly lethal in young and healthy people, who are usually more resistant to flu.

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Seattle police officers 1918

The Spanish-flu pandemic ended only when the virus had infected so many people that it burned itself out. Today, doctors have better tools—antivirals and respirators—that would cut the potential death toll. But influenza is unpredictable.

- 1918 : The deadly spanish flu isn’t actuallly from Spain. The neutral nation’s media are less stcitly censored during World War I and report more freely on the flu.
- 1968 : The most recent pandemic is called the Hong Kong flu after its origin, but the virus is comparatively mild.
- 2003 : H5N1 avian flu arises in Southeast Asia, prompting governments to respond by stockpilling the antiviral Tamiflu.
- 2009 : A contagious new flu virus infects people in Mexico and spreads to the US and several other countries.

Abridged from Time Magazine, article by Bryan Walsh.

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