Preparations For Possible Flu Pandemic

Reporter: Shannon Samson

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

The World Health Organization has called for an unprecedented summit of flu vaccine makers to deal with a possible flu pandemic.

In 1918 the flu killed tens of millions of people. The outbreak of the bird flu early this year and it's increasing presence in Asia, have at least one official with the UN Health Agency worried that it's just a matter of time before such a virus adapts itself to spread more easily from person-to-person, and cause a severe worldwide outbreak.

What's happening is a flu virus infects birds, then goes on to infect cells in pigs. If the same cell is infected by a flu virus from a human or another animal, the genes may mix, resulting in a new flu strain to which nobody is immune.

Family physician David Schultz, M.D. explains, "We live in a smaller world now. People can travel from city to city in a matter of hours and it's that quicker travel time that tends to spread the disease more rapidly. There is one benefit of that however, in spreading the disease around the world more rapidly, there is less chance in occurrence for mutagenesis to occur as it spreads across the world."

Unlike the flu pandemic of 1918, we now have antibiotics that can fight off secondary bacterial infections like pneumonia. And anti-viral drugs can also shorten the duration of the flu itself, if taken within four days of the onset of symptoms.

Dr. Schultz says, "Be aware of the symptoms of the flu so that if one starts becoming afflicted with the flu or the influenza virus that one can present to the physician's office in a more timely interval."

Unlike a cold, the flu is going to hit suddenly and likely bring with it a hacking cough, high fever, achy muscles, fatigue and a headache. You can also tell the difference by how long you're sick, colds usually last for a few days or up to a week, while the flu can hang around for up to two weeks. One Houston doctor says the current flu vaccine shortage is serving as a "dress rehearsal" for the kind of rationing and emergency measures that would need to be taken in the even of pandemic.