Prepared and submitted to the One Health Initiative website September 19, 2011 by:
Clint McDaniel MPH, CPH
Virology Laboratory Technician
Global Pathogens Laboratory http://gpl.phhp.ufl.edu
Emerging Pathogens Institute
Department of Environmental and Global Health
College of Public Health and Health Profession
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL (USA)
While the current Hollywood thriller Contagion is fictional, the idea of a novel outbreak of life and death proportion is very real. They have happened before. One of the most famous pandemics was the “Spanish flu” of 1918 that spread across the globe killing 50-100 million people – or 3% to 6% of the entire global population. With the emergence of the 2009 pandemic influenza virus, we are once again reminded of the potential of the influenza virus spreading across the Earth with surprising ease.
Warning signs continue to emerge with three notable events in the past month alone. A recent death in an otherwise healthy 80-year-old female has “surprised” health officials, serving as a reminder that the 2009 pandemic virus is still circulating and able to cause a significant morbidity. In a similar warning, the United Nations’s (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) encouraged increased influenza surveillance due to “a possible major resurgence of bird flu” from a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus emerging throughout Asia. These warnings are further compounded by the recent off season detection of novel influenza viruses among sick U.S. children. At last count four children have been infected with hybrid or reassortant virus that are a combination of the 2009 pandemic human virus and North American pig viruses. One of the four children had no contact with pigs suggesting that such novel viruses are circulating in people. These modifications to the 2009 pandemic virus have public health officials concerned.
Influenza surveillance in U.S. pigs is very limited and like in the film Contagion, such a novel virus could emerge from pig populations and find us totally unprepared.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swine-Origin Influenza A (H3N2) Virus Infection in Two Children --- Indiana and Pennsylvania, July--August 2011. Morbidity and mortality weekly report. 2011;60 (September 9):1213-5. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21900876.