How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

Is Pandemic Influenza A Real Threat?

We all know what the flu is. And I’m guessing that we all know what a pandemic is. In case you don’t know, it’s an epidemic of some infectious disease that spreads quickly through a large population.

Pandemics aren’t just caused by the flu. Pandemics through history have been caused by benign diseases such as cholera, typhus, smallpox, leprosy. And don’t forget other fun stuff like the bubonic plague.

Rudy’s Note: Pandemics are generally categorized by severity using something called, oddly enough, the Pandemic Severity Index. Similar to the severity scales for storms, pandemic severities are measured on a scale of 1 to 5.

The PSI is primarily measured by the ‘case-fatality ratio’ which is the percentage of deaths out of the total reported cases. A category 1 pandemic has a CFR of less than 0.1%, while a category 5 is 2% or higher.

In real numbers, based on the US population in 2006, a Cat 1 pandemic would kill up to 90,000 people, while a Cat 5 pandemic would be devastating to the population with over 1,800,000 deaths.

This is serious stuff, people…

Suffice it to say that the threat of pandemic disease is very real, and isn’t all that unlikely. Let’s take a look at the flu and a couple of the influenza pandemics that have occurred over the years.

The Spanish Flu

The Spanish Flu Pandemic occurred between 1918 and 1920 and was caused by an H1N1 virus. Yes, that’s the same flu subtype as the swine flu.

It was a category 5 global pandemic that killed between 50 and 100 million people world wide in two years. Highly infectious, it had an infection rate of around 50%. The mortality rate was up to 20%.

The Spanish Flu hit young people more than the elderly, which is rare for a flu. If this isn’t enough to worry you, a similar pandemic if it happened today, with the same infection and mortality rates, would kill between 18,000,000 and 20,000,000 Americans.

The Asian Flu

The Asian Flu happened between 1957 and 1958, predominantly in Asia. It started in China when a strain of the bird flu (H2N2) mutated. This allowed the virus to jump from wild ducks to humans.

It took four months for the virus to spread world-wide. This pandemic was a category 2 pandemic that killed 1-4 million people world wide. In the US it killed 70,000 people. Using today’s population numbers, that’s about 120,000 people.

Unlike the Spanish Flu, the Asian Flu of 1957 killed primarily the elderly, just like the classic seasonal flu. This helped keep mortality numbers lower than they might otherwise have been.

The Hong Kong Flu

About ten years later there was another category two pandemic that was caused by a strain of H3N2 virus, which was a massive mutation of the H2N2 avian flu that jumped to both humans and pigs.

The H3N2 virus is one of the most prominent seasonal influenzas, killing around 36,000 people a year in the United States.

The Hong Kong Flu had a relatively low death rate, killing only 33,800 people in the United States, or about 55,000 people in today’s numbers. This lower death rate was due largely to immunities from the Asian Flu pandemic, the timing of the outbreaks peak, and improved antibiotics that helped resolve secondary infections.

Wrapping Things Up

Hopefully you’ll agree that a pandemic is a potentially serious problem, and considering that in the last 100 years we’ve had several major influenza pandemics (let alone other diseases), it’s a real problem.

Stay tuned for a post in the near future that will discuss ways to prepare for a pandemic.

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