This year’s flu outbreak has been a particularly nasty one, killing up to 4,000 people a week in the US alone. And while the good news is we appear to have reached peak flu for this season, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start preparing for the next one.
On Monday, the Daily Mail published an article by Jonathan Quick, a medical doctor and chair of the Global Health Council, warning the world risks a viral pandemic even more devastating than the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million people in less than two years.
“The big one is coming: a global virus pandemic that could kill 33 million victims in its first 200 days,” Quick wrote.
Within two years, more than 300 million people could die as a direct result – or roughly 4 percent of the world’s current population. The survivors will have to cope with a disrupted food and medicine supply, looting, starvation, and the threat of a collapsed global economy.
“It’s a disaster movie nightmare,” he added. “Yet it is waiting to come true, thanks to influenza — the most diabolical, hardest-to-control and fastest-spreading potential viral killer known to humankind.”
According to Quick, the pathogen that poses the biggest threat is a deadly mutation of the influenza virus. If the conditions are right, this could happen as soon as tomorrow.
Every now and them, something like this does happen. Think H1N1 swine flu and H5N1 avian flu, aka bird flu. Fortunately, these two diseases have not made the jump to full-blown pandemic (yet). However, that doesn't mean they won't in the future.
This sounds depressing but now is not the time to fall into a pit of despair. There are things we can do to protect ourselves, says Quick.
The first is to "fight factory farming".
"We have inadvertently developed a powerful way of helping influenza to kill us, 100 years on [from the Spanish Flu]," he writes. "This is our addiction to cheap chicken and pork — and the factory farm industry that supplies it.”
Thousands of animals jammed together in poor conditions is the perfect environment for a potentially deadly flu virus to evolve. The good news is that we can chose not to eat meat and dairy – or eat them less often, make sure it is organic, and avoid food places that source from factory farms.
We can also follow recommended hygiene rules, which includes washing hands, using tissues, and staying at home if you do fall ill to prevent exposing others to the virus.
The most important method of prevention, however, is vaccination. "As a doctor, I know that nothing can protect people against illness as effectively as a vaccine...We need a vaccine that attacks something fundamental in the virus that does not change, so it is effective against all strains of flu.”