Outbreaks and Updates Travel Health

Pandemics and Influenza: Swine Flu H1N1 next?

Nurses in 1918 Flu outbreakToday 4/29/2009 the World Health organization upgraded the “pandemic level” to a level 5 out of 6.  This is the last step before officially declaring a pandemic.  Humans have already dealt with several pandemics in the 20th century and what exactly is a pandemic?


The term “pandemic” comes from Greek with PAN meaning “all” and DEMOS meaning “people”. Actually it was the Greek physician Hippocrates first described influenza in 412 BC.   A pandemic is basically a new, infectious disease that spreads between humans on a large scale.  Currently the WHO uses a scale of 1-6 to rank an infectious disease and its ability for causing a pandemic. 

  • Phase Four:  Human to human spread possible
  • Phase Five: Human to human spread of the virus in at least two countries in one region of the globe
  • Phase Six: Global Pandemic with widespread outbreaks

So looking at the previous few days of the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) we cannot be surprised that this is moving towards a “pandemic” and it actually appears that we are already at the pandemic point.  There is currently spread between humans, it has infected people in multiple countries in the same geographic region and it has crossed continents.


Come back later, please?Famous Previous and Current Pandemics

The Black Deathof Europe, Plague caused by the bacteria Yersenia Pestis started in the 1300’s and killed 20-30 million Europeans over 6 years

First cholera pandemic at the Indian Sub-continent 1816-1826 killed greater than 10 million and many records indicate a higher toll, all caused by a humble bacteria

Spanish Flu was first noted in March of 1918 in Kansas and had spread to all continents by October.  Estimates of 2.5-5% of the total global population was infected and killed 50 million people in six months

Asian Flu in 1957-1958 killed 2 million globally and about 70,000 in the United States alone

HIV  is an active pandemic that has spread from one continent to another, is infectious and its death toll may reach 100 million in Africa alone, by 2025

Smallpox  is a virus that had a death toll of 500 million in the 20th century alone, until it was eradicated, in an amazing global effort, 1n 1979

Clearly, the term pandemic does not mean the end of the world.  Humans have suffered through and still grapple with pandemics, on a daily basis.  Taking proper personal safety measures such as handwashing, using condoms, covering your cough, not sharing needles and disposing of your dirty tissues properly are what help stop disease spread.

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