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Pandemics

2009 influenza A/H1N1

The 2009 outbreak of a new strain of Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 created concerns that a new pandemic was occurring. In the latter half of April, 2009, the World Health Organization’s pandemic alert level was sequentially increased from three to five until the announcement on 11 June 2009 that the pandemic level had been raised to its highest level, level six.1 This was the first pandemic on this level since 1968. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), gave a statement on 11 June 2009 confirming that the H1N1 strain was indeed a pandemic, having nearly 30,000 confirmed cases worldwide.

AIDS pandemic

HIV went directly from Africa to Haiti, then spread to the United States and much of the rest of the world beginning around 1969.2 HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is currently a pandemic, with infection rates as high as 25% in southern and eastern Africa. In 2006 the HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women in South Africa was 29.1%.3 Effective education about safer sexual practices and bloodborne infection precautions training have helped to slow down infection rates in several African countries sponsoring national education programs. Infection rates are rising again in Asia and the Americas. AIDS could kill 31 million people in India and 18 million in China by 2025, according to projections by U.N. population researchers.4 AIDS death toll in Africa may reach 90-100 million by 2025.5

Influenza A virus subtype H5N1

In February 2004, avian influenza virus was detected in birds in Vietnam, increasing fears of the emergence of new variant strains. It is feared that if the avian influenza virus combines with a human influenza virus (in a bird or a human), the new subtype created could be both highly contagious and highly lethal in humans. Such a subtype could cause a global influenza pandemic, similar to the Spanish Flu, or the lower mortality pandemics such as the Asian Flu and the Hong Kong Flu.

From October 2004 to February 2005, some 3,700 test kits of the 1957 Asian Flu virus were accidentally spread around the world from a lab in the US.6

In May 2005, scientists urgently call nations to prepare for a global influenza pandemic that could strike as much as 20% of the world’s population.7

In October 2005, cases of the avian flu (the deadly strain H5N1) were identified in Turkey. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: “We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus. There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China.” Cases of bird flu were also identified shortly thereafter in Romania, and then Greece. Possible cases of the virus have also been found in Croatia, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom.8

By November 2007, numerous confirmed cases of the H5N1 strain had been identified across Europe 8. However, by the end of October only 59 people had died as a result of H5N1 which was atypical of previous influenza pandemics.

Regular influenza viruses establish infection by attaching to receptors in the throat and lungs, but the avian influenza virus can only attach to receptors located deep in the lungs of humans, requiring close, prolonged contact with infected patients, and thus limiting person-to-person transmission.

1.”AWHO ‘declares swine flu pandemic'”. BBC News. June 11, 2009.
2.The virus reached the U.S. by way of Haiti, genetic study shows.. Los Angeles Times. October 30, 2007.
3.The South African Department of Health Study, 2006
4.AIDS Toll May Reach 100 Million in Africa. target=”_blank”>Washington Post. June 4, 2006. Aids could kill 90 million Africans, says UN
5.. guardian.co.uk. 25 May 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/may/25/birdflu.
6.”Bird flu is confirmed in Greece”. BBC NEWS. 17 October 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4348404.stm. “Bird Flu Map”. BBC NEWS. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/world/05/bird_flu_map/html/1.stm.

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