December is a time to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, but it's also when flu season starts ramping up. Several states have already reported an increase
in flu activity, and it appears that the predominant strain of flu found in patients who have been hospitalized so far is H1N1 -- the "Swine Flu" that caused a global pandemic in 2009 but is now a human seasonal
flu virus. Here are a few links about the flu season, pandemics, and vaccines.
- The flu pandemic of 1918 killed more than 50 million people worldwide. The virus was a bird virus that had, by chance, acquired the ability to travel via coughing and sneezing, which enabled it to infect a person who then spread it others, starting the pandemic. Could an outbreak of that scale and lethality happen again? Possibly, but there are many events that have to come together just the right way for that to occur, and there's no way to predict it.[url]
- Flu season in the Northern Hemisphere starts in October and ends in May, typically peaking in February. In the Southern Hemisphere, flu season goes from May to October and usually peaks in August. But thanks to modern air travel, these complementary flu seasons can easily feed each other.[url]
- Scientists are working towards developing a new kind of flu vaccine -- one that would provide lifetime protection against many flu strains, including ones that haven't even evolved yet. The key to developing such a universal vaccine is to target an area of the flu virus that doesn't change very much, such as the stems of the surface proteins. Trials in mice and other animals have shown promising results, but it could be several years or decades before an effective universal vaccine becomes available for people.[url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post