And in this time of rebirth, there seems to be another new hatched influenza virus– bird flu (H7N9). Don’t panic. You still have at least six months to smell a few flowers and wiggle your toes in the grass.
Have you noticed that influenza viruses always seem to come from far off remote places? And new flu viruses are named after animals, like birds and pigs, not race cars and rockets?
Start with some planetary weather basics: Northern and Southern hemispheres have opposite seasons. Early spring here is late fall in the Southern Hemisphere. We are at the end of our flu season, while they are at the very beginning.
New viruses emerge first in poor remote areas of the Southern Hemisphere. In these areas, people and animals tend to live in close proximity. When your life savings is three pigs, you don’t let them far from your sight, even at night.
Most of the new influenza viruses develop and change (mutate) in animals, and they rarely cross species and jump from animal to humans. But the closer and longer the infected animal interacts with a person, the higher the chance the virus will cross.
And people from these areas make it easier because they have weakened immune systems due to malnutrition and poor sanitation. As far as the new flu virus is concerned, this is a perfect storm.
Remember these changes in the virus are random, meaning a lot of changes occur that just don’t work, which is good news for us. They are false starts for the virus unless it is both new (no immunity) and spread through coughing.
The timing of this means we won’t see a new bird flu virus in the United States for at least six to eight months. This is the same timing we face every year when we develop a new influenza vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) collects specimens of the new flu viruses in poor rural areas in early winter (our spring). WHO picks the most concerning viruses, grows pure cultures, and lights the fuse for worldwide vaccine production.
In a few short months, the vaccine manufacturers of the world combine their efforts and produce close to 100 million doses. That’s just in time for the start of our flu season.
This new virus (H7N9) may be one of those false starts. It has not been shown yet to pass from person to person through coughing. The people who have gotten it so far have handled infected animals.
But this is a bad acting virus. We have no immunity against it, and it causes severe disease in the few people who have caught it. This new virus possesses the usual just-shoot-me influenza symptoms (fever, cough, fatigue, muscle aches) and brain swelling. The alarming issue is a death rate of 30 percent.
So add H7N9 to your scary tropical disease list, along with Ebola and Marburg virus. Remember that civilization as we know it will not end, and this may not be “The Bird Flu” we’ve talked so much about.
But just in case, a reminder – get your annual flu shot this year by Oct. 1.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
<p>Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / <a href=”http://www.freedigitalphotos.net” target=”_blank”>FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a></p>