According to the Associated Press on August 26th, the US and Canada may have to close schools, restrict travel and ration scarce medications if a powerful new flu strain spurs a worldwide outbreak, according to the federal planners for the next pandemic. It will take months to brew a new vaccine that works against the kind of super flu that causes a pandemic, although government preparations include research to speed the production. Federal plans have long been awaited by flu specialists, who say that it is just a matter of time before the next pandemic strikes and the nation is woefully unprepared for it!
There have been three flu pandemics in the last century, with the worst in 1918, when more than a half a million Americans and 20 million people worldwide died. Pre-baby boomers most likely heard about it from their parents and boomers from their grandparents.
The specialists say that the next one could be triggered by the recurring bird flu in Asia, if it indeed mutates in a way that lets it spread easily among humans. Bird flu has caused recurring outbreaks in recent years and has killed 27 people already this year in Asia. Until now, human infections have been traced to direct contact with infected poultry or poultry waste, and millions of chickens and other fowl have been slaughtered in attempts to stem the disease.
In a recent report, Dutch researchers found that cats can not only catch the bird flu, but can also spread it to other felines. Dr. Klaus Stohr, the influenza chief of the World Health Organization, states that there is not enough evidence yet to prove that cats can spread the deadly virus to humans, but has urged scientists to examine household cats and other mammals whenever researchers investigate human bird-flu infections. The cat research is of considerable concern because it illustrates the virus continuing adaptations in mammals, said Dr. Nancy Cox of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Cox adds we need to do a lot more in the veterinary arena in order to understand what other animals can be infected and can transmit the virus. Last winter Thai veterinarians reported that the bird flu had killed three house cats. That was a big surprise as domesticated cats have long been thought resistant to infection from influenza A-type viruses.
As pointed out above, the US is woefully unprepared for it and public health experts worry that such a bug might come so fast that there will not be enough time to prepare adequate vaccine to keep the risk to a minimum.