In February 1918, a Haskell County, Kan., paper, the Santa Fe Monitor, reported almost a dozen people were “quite sick” with pneumonia. At the time, the stories may not have seemed significant. Many people get sick in the winter.
Decades later, however, the stories became hugely important. The Monitor’s report helped disease detectives piece together the trail of the world’s greatest influenza pandemic and its epicenter, according to “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History” by author John Barry. The 1918 flu, which ultimately killed about 50 million people globally, likely began in Haskell County, where scientists think the deadly flu virus jumped between animals and humans and then to troops at a nearby army base readying to fight World War I.
Why this matters today was highlighted in a Stat story this week by Helen Branswell, “When Towns Lose Their Newspapers, Disease Detectives are Left Flying Blind.” Continue reading
This year’s severe flu season has increased the spotlight on the development of a “universal” influenza vaccine – a vaccine that would be effective against most strains of the flu.
But that vaccine has been elusive.
In 2011, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told USA Today that he was “guardedly optimistic” a universal flu vaccine would be within reach in five years after scientists identified pieces of the virus that consistently appeared in seasonal and pandemic flu viruses. Continue reading
Reporters covering the flu season know it has been one of the most severe in the past decade. As of early February, the number of people who have visited a doctor due to the flu had exceeded the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Public health officials have known since last fall that this flu season was likely to be severe, yet the health system had trouble keeping up. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. There have been shortages of antivirals, IV saline bags and flu shots. Dozens of children have died.
What does that say about the U.S. health system’s readiness for handling infectious disease outbreaks? We are among the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet every year the health system has trouble convincing people to get the flu vaccine and has further difficulty caring for those who get ill. Continue reading
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This year is starting off with one of the worst flu seasons in a decade. As of the week ended Jan. 27, the number of hospitalizations due to the flu is the highest it has been in nearly a decade, and flu activity has been as highest reported since the peak of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the CDC said. The CDC was also quick to note that this outbreak isn’t a pandemic.
It is likely that flu won’t be the only outbreak in 2018. Over the past year, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil, plague in Madagascar, cholera in Yemen and measles in Minnesota. While no one knows what else might occur in 2018, there is likely to be another infectious disease outbreak somewhere in the world in the coming year. Continue reading
The headlines say it all: In Houston, “Elderly should avoid the flu at all costs this season;” in Cleveland, “Flu deaths continue to rise;” and in New Orleans, “Flu overwhelming emergency rooms.
This flu season is terrible. Really bad, this Time explainer notes. Unfortunately, it has been the most vulnerable — mostly children, those with serious chronic conditions, and older adults — who are paying the highest price. Continue reading