Winter brings snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, but these climatic conditions are also the harbingers of another time of year: flu season. We all know the signs—chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, coughing—and hope that this common illness will make us sick for only a few days. But though the flu may seem harmless, influenza results in between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year and can spread virulently around the world. In pandemic years, the flu can kill millions.
The recurrence of the Spanish Flu virus, the appearance and spread of Bird Flu, and the 2009 Swine Flu have heightened concerns about the dangers posed by flu pandemics. Drawing on his extensive research into influenza pandemics, George Dehner refutes the idea that these are a new phenomenon. In Global Flu and You, he traces the origins of the disease and outlines the societal and cultural changes that enabled the virus to become an epidemic threat. He reveals that while medical and scientific breakthroughs in studying and protecting against the virus have made rapid progress, demographic, economic, and technical changes have served to speed up and amplify the potential impacts of an influenza pandemic.
Accessibly written for any reader, Global Flu and You exposes the facts and fictions of an illness we could all succumb to and is a must-read for anyone concerned with their own—and the world’s—health.
In 1976, the outbreak of a new strain of swine flu at the Fort Dix, New Jersey, army base prompted an unprecedented inoculation campaign. Some forty-two million Americans were vaccinated as the National Influenza Immunization Program hastened to prevent a pandemic, while the World Health Organization (WHO) took a wait-and-see approach. Fortunately, the virus did not spread, and only one death occurred. But instead of being lauded, American actions were subsequently denounced as a “fiasco” and instigator of mass panic.
In Influenza, George Dehner examines the wide disparity in national and international responses to influenza pandemics, from the Russian flu of 1889 to the swine flu outbreak in 2009. He chronicles the technological and institutional progress made along the way and shows how these developments can shape an effective future policy.
Early pandemic response relied on methods of quarantine and individual scientific research. In the aftermath of World War II, a consensus for cooperation and shared resources led to the creation of the WHO, under the auspices of the United Nations. Today, the WHO maintains a large and proactive role in responding to influenza outbreaks. International pandemic response, however, is only as strong as its weakest national link—most recently evidenced in the failed early detection of the 2009 swine flu in Mexico and the delayed reporting of the 2002 SARS outbreak in China.
As Dehner’s study contends, the hard lessons of the past highlight the need for a coordinated early warning system with full disclosure, shared technologies, and robust manufacturing capabilities. Until the “national” aspect can be removed from the international equation, responses will be hampered, and a threat to an individual remains a threat to all.