Bill Martin / Science / World Mission

Deacon Bill (see below) has sent along this first column:

On both November 2 and 9, the Bishop of Arizona’s E-pistle included excerpts on pandemic influenza planning along with a partial list of additional resources. Since I have a relatively extensive background in the study of infectious diseases, I submit the following as an introduction on this potentially deadly infectious disease.

Infectious diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. It is no secret that new and re-emerging microbial agents that can cause a number of infections, including influenza, are a growing concern among scientists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that seasonal influenza causes more than 200,000 hospitalizations per year and about 36,000 deaths annually. Those at highest risk are the very young, the very old, those undergoing chemotherapy, or those whose immune systems are compromised, such as AIDS patients or organ transplant patients. Moreover, influenza can dramatically impact both our economy and all aspects of normal life.

Most virologists believe that another pandemic (worldwide) will occur. Indeed, influenza pandemics have occurred throughout history such as the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. The major culprit responsible for ordinary influenza and all pandemics is the group A influenza virus, which includes the Avian (bird flu) influenza viruses. The major concern is that all these viruses are able to readily mutate. This is certainly true with the H5N1 Avian influenza virus, which is continuing to evolve. In 2006, there were about 100 confirmed cases of H5N1 in humans, the majority of them fatal. It is well known also that H5N1 virus continues to be a problem primarily among poultry in Asia and Europe. Although rare, person-to-person transmission has also been documented. What public health officials fear is that this virus may well mutate in ways that make sustained transmission of H5N1 possible. Even more troubling are the recent studies conducted at CDC that showed these viruses to be more lethal than the 1918 Spanish flu virus. This alone strongly implies a very potent disease-causing virus.

In another blog, I will discuss what a pandemic of Avian Influenza may look like.        

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...