Monday, December 14, 2009

PBS Weta: "Anatomy of a Pandemic" H1N1 and maybe H5N1

On Monday Dec. 14, PBS station WETA, Channel 26 in Washington DC, aired its hour-long documentary “Anatomy of a Pandemic”, produced in part by the station, narrated by NewHour’s Ray Suarez. The link is here. A video preview is offered there.

The film traced the history of similar viruses, including the horrific 1918 Spanish flu, in which the young and healthy sometimes dies of suffocation in a few hours. The virus seems to have incubated among the troops, and an overactive immune reaction in the lungs produced a drowning effect. In some cities, society almost completely broke down during the epidemic, and people starved in their apartments.

The show documented the 1976 swine flu epidemic, and the Ford administration’s rush for a “shotgun” vaccine, and then the shutdown of vaccination after there were some cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome.

The documentary portrays H1N1 as unpredictable, even as there is now a lull in the epidemic. The virus does tend to attach deep in the lungs, and has been more dangerous for young adults than most seasonal flu, even if the total death total is now still less than for seasonal flu.

One of the biggest concerns is that H1N1 genes will mix with H5N1 genes, and produce even deadlier viruses. A new viral epidemic, especially based on H5N1, could produce as great a threat to civilization as did the 1918 flu.

Wikipedia attribtion link for NIH diagram of viral antigenic drift.

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