“Germ Factories”

By now you may have heard that swine flu could infect up to 40% of the United States. Health officials say flu cases are likely to explode once school begins and serve as “germ factories.”

“The estimates are based on a flu pandemic from 1957, which killed nearly 70,000 in the United States but was not as severe as the infamous Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19. The number of deaths and illnesses from the new swine flu virus would drop if the pandemic peters out or if efforts to slow its spread are successful, said a CDC spokesman.”

“The World Health Organization says as many as 2 billion people could become infected in the next two years — nearly a third of the world population.”

“Swine flu has been an escalating concern in Britain and some other European nations, where the virus’ late arrival has grabbed attention and some officials at times have sounded alarmed.”

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Pestilence in Perspective

And so at the end of the day, there is this nagging fear in the back of the head, that this is it. This is going to be the big one. But then I am reminded that this has happened before, and will happen again.  Let’s review– mainly for the purpose of making me feel better about the current state of affairs.

1348 [The Black Death/The Bubonic Plague]: This is one of my favorites.  Grim, gross, and thousands of years ago.  Spread by fleas and rats (already that’s pretty gross), this killed an estimated 25 million people.  An Italian writer who lived through the plague described it like this:

“…it began…with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg…In a short space of time these tumours spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death…”

1918 [Spanish Flu]: or what I would like to call “the big bad wolf.”  Over 50 million people died.  ” Some people who felt well in the morning became sick by noon, and were dead by nightfall.” Terrifying.  The Spanish Flu also fancied young, healthy adults who are usually less likely to become seriously ill due to the flu.

1957 [Asian Flu]: Much milder, if you can call it that, with global death estimates at 2 million.  During the first wave of this epidemic, the highest infection rates were among children, who spread the illness within their schools.  The second wave effected mostly the elderly.

1968 [Hong Kong Flu]: Also known as H3N2, it is estimated to have caused 1 million deaths worldwide.  The elderly were most likely to die and deaths occurred in large numbers during 2 separate winters.

2009 [H1N1]: We have been thrust back into history and it’s pretty exciting…and terrifying of course.