As a medical researcher, I want to make a gentle but sincere plea to the blogosphere to calm down this flu hysteria just a bit. The main way that flu kills is by predisposing its victims to "superinfection" by bacterial illnesses - in 1918, we had no antibiotics for these superimposed infections, but now we have plenty. Such superinfections, and the transmittal of flu itself, were aided tremendously by the crowded conditions and poor sanitation of the early 20th century - these are currently vastly improved as well. Flu hits the elderly the hardest, but the "elderly" today are healthier, stronger, and better nourished than ever before. Our medical infrastructure is vastly better off, ranging from simple things like oxygen and sterile i.v. fluids, not readily available in 1918, to complex technologies such as respirators and dialysis. Should we be concerned? Sure, better safe than sorry, and concerns about publishing the sequence are worth discussing. Should we panic? No - my apologies to the fearmongers, but we will never see another 1918.I've been hesitant to post about this, because I've been observing the progression of the bird flu around the world, and have been waiting for confirmation of human-to-human transmission of the disease. I've heard none.
Patrick Cunningham M.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Section of Nephrology
University of Chicago
I've got a special interest in this story. My great-grandmother died in 1918 in New Orleans, one of the 25 million or so victims of the Spanish Influenza. Lucky for me, her offspring survived.
I suspect that while it's prudent to cull birds, get flu shots, and generally be aware of the danger that influenza presents to the young, elderly, and those with supressed immune systems, it's just as prudent to keep this thing in perspective.
The sky is not falling (yet).