Education Frontlines: Flu Virology 101

<b>John Richard Schrock</b>
John Richard Schrock


“What number of our bodies are you able to retailer within the chilly rooms?”  We confronted this query over 20 years in the past as college personnel charged with catastrophe planning. I used to be in a biology division and one of many HAZMAT crew. We have been drafting a plan for dealing with a repeat of the influenza of 1918, a pandemic that took extra lives every day than another illness.

This particular query revealed that our native hospital wouldn’t have sufficient area within the morgue to accommodate the variety of deaths. Our walk-in temperature-controlled rooms might take a number of the overflow. The college would additionally shut down. College students dwelling close by could be despatched dwelling. Worldwide and extra distant home college students would keep within the dorms and be provided with meals.

Our animal care and use committee must determine whether or not we’d euthanize our laboratory mice or whether or not a employees member would tackle the responsibility of caring for the animals. In any other case, we’d stop working and “stand in place” in an try to forestall the unfold of this flu virus pressure if it returned.

Why are some varieties of flu gentle whereas some are way more virulent? That takes studying some flu science and what the letters and numbers, comparable to AH5N1 and BH1N1, imply.

Influenza A viruses happen in different animals comparable to geese, seals, chickens, pigs, whales, horses and cats. However influenza B viruses flow into solely amongst people. (There’s a C virus that causes gentle flu circumstances, and a D influenza solely present in cattle.)

Influenza A viruses are then grouped in subtypes based mostly on variations in “H” and “N” proteins on the floor of the virus: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. Based on the CDC, “there are 18 totally different hemagglutinin subtypes and 11 totally different neuraminidase subtypes. All recognized subtypes of influenza A viruses have been discovered amongst birds, besides subtype H17N10 and H18N11 which have solely been present in bats. Whereas it’s uncommon for individuals to get influenza infections instantly from animals, sporadic human infections and outbreaks attributable to sure avian influenza A viruses have been reported.”

The 1918 flu pandemic was attributable to an AH1N1 virus of avian origin. Regardless of the widespread title “Spanish flu,” it was first recognized in troopers at Fort Riley in Kansas. The CDC estimates “…about 500 million individuals or one-third of the world’s inhabitants grew to become contaminated with this virus. The variety of deaths was estimated to be not less than 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the US.” Our crowded troop ships carried troopers with this flu to Europe. Right now there have been no anti-viral medication—certainly viruses weren’t but understood and a bacterium was suspected.

Antibiotics wouldn’t be developed till World Battle II, and antibiotics are ineffective in opposition to viruses. The primary protection in opposition to viruses are vaccines that stimulate our immune programs to kind antibodies. If the virus doesn’t quickly evolve variations, as within the case of smallpox and polio, we are able to eradicate a virus by vaccination (profitable with smallpox, nonetheless pending with polio).

Sadly, influenza evolves quickly and particularly in extremely populated cities. Every year there’s an informed guess on which new influenza strains have arisen that may unfold the next yr. Once more the CDC explains: “One influenza A(H1N1), one influenza A(H3N2), and one or two influenza B viruses (relying on the vaccine) are included in every season’s influenza vaccines. Getting a flu vaccine can defend in opposition to flu viruses which are just like the viruses used to make vaccine.”

Whereas everybody is targeted on the Wuhan coronavirus, China’s Ministry of Agriculture simply reported (February 1) an outbreak of the extremely pathogenic H5N1 fowl flu at a farm in Hunan. 4,500 of the 7,850 chickens died of the fowl flu. The rest have been destroyed and no people contracted the flu. In 2013, one other avian influenza A(H7N9) virus arose in China and induced 1,568 human infections. Roughly 39 % of those that contracted it died, however it doesn’t unfold simply between individuals. The CDC states: “If it did, specialists imagine it might lead to a pandemic with severity similar to the 1918 pandemic.” The hazard from a coronavirus or flu virus is determined by how pathogenic it’s (case-fatality price), how simply it’s unfold human-to-human, how lengthy a service is contagious, and whether or not carriers all the time current signs.    

The willingness of the highly-crowded Chinese language inhabitants to stay-in-place to regulate the unfold of doubtless pandemic viral ailments is just not acknowledged by the Western individuals or press.  People focus extra on rights than duty. And American science schooling—and due to this fact public understanding—is abysmal by worldwide requirements.

Returning to the planning of a college shutdown within the face of a return of the 1918 flu pressure, I requested about quarantine roadblocks. The reply was “no.”  

People need their freedom of motion. On this case: a freedom to die.   

John Richard Schrock has educated biology academics for greater than 30 years in Kansas. He additionally has lectured at 27 universities in 20 journeys to China. He holds the excellence of “School Emeritus” at Emporia State College.

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