ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Disease Has No Borders

The influenza A (H1N1) epidemic once again shows that poor countries are the worst affected.

Is the world on the threshold of a pandemic of a new kind of flu? The World Health Organisation (WHO) thinks so and has raised its level of alertness to Phase 5, just one level short of the maximum, which it defines as “a signal that a pandemic is possible”. As we go to press, 21 countries have reported 1,490 cases of the influenza A (H1N1) infection, Mexico has reported 822 cases including 29 deaths and the United States, 403 cases including two deaths.

The influenza virus, of which there are three broad types (A, B and C), is known to cause disease in humans, pigs and birds. One of the key elements of this virus is that it is able to mutate very rapidly, and therefore antibodies that have formed against a previous strain are ineffective against a new one. Vaccines have to be constantly updated to be effective. The strain that is currently causing concern is a combination of one strain of human virus, one strain of bird virus and two separate strains of pig virus. By antibody serotyping it is defined as H1N1 and is thought to have evolved in Mexico.

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