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H1N1 Prevention: Effective Measures or Psychological Comfort?

jrieders's picture

     The 1918 Influenza killed more Americans in one year than those that died in battle in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. If a virus as deadly as the 1918 flu became a pandemic today, it would kill more people than heart disease, stroke, cancers, chronic pulmonary disease, AIDS, and Alzheimer's combined. Death estimates worldwide range from 20 million to over a 100 million, as many remote areas that were decimated by the flu did not keep mortality records. This strain of flu was 25 times more virulent than seasonal flu and it's death curve looks like a W, with mortality rates peaking for children under the age of 5, elderly 70-74, and the group that normally has the lowest death rate for the seasonal flu, people ages 20-40.

   In 1976 18 year old Private David Lewis, who was training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, came down with the flu. Determined to join his unit on a 5 mile hike, Lewis collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he died of influenza complicated by pneumonia. Throat washing samples from his throat, along with samples from several other men at the camp with influenza like symptoms were sent to the New Jersey Department of Public Health for testing. While the seasonal flu strain was found in 11 samples, 7 samples contained unidentified flu virus. Weeks after sending out the samples, the CDC determined that 4 samples contained a virus that was closely related to swine flu, the same flu suspected to have caused the 1918 pandemic. This began the largest vaccine program at that time, costing $135 million,  which ended up costing much more in resulting lawsuits.


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