Tuesday, April 28, 2009

So how dangerous is the Swine Flu anyway?

The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed between 20 and 100 million people worldwide, including an aunt of mine in the wilds of Idaho. That's what the fuss is about. I don't think we have much worry that the new flu will have anywhere near this severity. Why? Trench Warfare.

Diseases, to spread in a population, must keep an infected host active enough to infect someone else before the host dies. The 1918 influenza killed people within a day or two. How did it develop such virulence?

In 1914-1918, there were millions of men shoulder-shoulder in trenches across Europe. (There were 60 million soldiers in WWI.) In such conditions, a virus could develop with extreme morbidity because it could easily spread to the next poor sod over even if it killed the original poor sod with great speed. And no one was rushing out of the trenches--into the arms of the enemy. Then the war ended in 1918and everyone went home to such remote corners of the globe as southwest Idaho, with their tiny buddies. And people dropped like flu victims.

Timing issues; the first cases of the most virulent form of the Spanish flu were detected in August 1918 in three separate places: Brest, France, Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in Boston, MA. In September, the Armistice was signed, the troops came home, and the flu started hitting communities hard. Since the flu was so virulent, it would only last in a community for about a month before moving on, as without the enforced proximity of a trench, people who became ill quickly became too sick to move around and infect others.

So, the way I see it, the artificial conditions caused by the "War to end all wars" (such optimism) allowed for the flu virus to become much more virulent than a similar virus could be today.

However, are there such immobile populations today that could breed such a virus? Prisons, perhaps? Or maybe we're safer.

The last four minutes of "Blackadder Goes Forth."


Steve said...

Ah, a Blackadder clip!

But I agree, I'm not too worried about this flu thing. Really, my only concern is for my three month old. Otherwise, I figure it will most likely be contained.

djinn said...

According to the LA times, it looks like this virus produces only mild symptoms. (Congradulations! on the new baby.)