Rethinking Healthcare

How much like the 1918 flu is H1N1?

Posting in Science

Given that most of those who died in 1918 had bacterial infections which struck before we had antibiotics, and that standard vaccines were not in use then, could we be dealing withwhat ended World War I, only doing a better job of it?

The H1N1 "swine flu" story moves fast, because science and communication move so much faster than in 1918.

Were this the 1918 influenza pandemic, given what we now know, what we can learn, and how quickly we communicate, I wonder how bad it would be?

Start with the bad news.

You may still be contagious from this flu 8-10 days after symptoms start, meaning after you've recovered you can still spread it. And vaccine maker Glaxo SmithKline is being coy about how much it is charging for the vaccine. Someone needs to break that embargo.

But there is good news.

Vaccine supplies are coming on stream quickly, and it may be possible that one shot will do it for you. It could take as much as 8-10 days (again) to get an immune response, but it's also possible that starting next year the standard flu shot will cover both the seasonal and the new strain.

This flu remains deadly serious in developing countries, and we don't yet have a clear idea of how quickly and effectively the virus mutates.

But given that most of those who died in 1918 had bacterial infections which struck before we had antibiotics, and that standard vaccines were not in use then, could we be dealing with what ended World War I, only doing a better job of it?

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure