Mothers are celebrated (if sometimes vilified) for their eagerness to advise
their children on matters big and small: how to behave, what to wear, whom to
marry, when to have kids ... and, oh yes, how to stay healthy during cold and
Does science back up what Dr. Mom told you about the common cold? Or was she
full of hot air? Here's what real doctors have to say about 10 familiar
Short answer: probably not. But there are many unknowns involved, making
accurate prediction impossible.
Sooner or later, pandemic flu will happen. Flu pandemics sweep the
globe from time to time as new flu bugs emerge. These bugs cause global
epidemics -- pandemics -- because humans have little or no immunity to these
viruses. Sometimes, as in the war-torn world of 1918, it's a terrible plague.
Sometimes, as in 1957 and 1968, it's relatively mild.
Bird flu is still a bird disease. The H5N1 bird flu in Asia does not spread
well from person to person. It's a leading contender to be the next pandemic
flu bug because it has caused an unprecedented epidemic in poultry and wild
birds across Asia and Eastern Europe. But nobody knows for sure whether this
will be the flu that causes the next human pandemic.
Bird flu could become a human flu in two ways.
If a person were infected with a human flu and the bird flu at the same
time, the two viruses could swap genes -- reassort -- and a human version of
bird flu could emerge. This is what happened in the last two flu pandemics in
1957 and 1968.
Bird flu could also evolve into a form adapted to humans, as was the case in
the 1918 flu pandemic. There's evidence the H5N1 bird flu virus has begun this process,
but scientists say it isn't yet very far along. Nevertheless, a few H5N1
viruses isolated from humans have acquired some key 1918-like mutations.
At a World Health Organization news conference in May 2005, Klaus Stöhr,
PhD, DVM, project leader for the WHO's Global Influenza Program, was asked
whether a bird flu pandemic is imminent.
"With this virus we have had very many surprises; we have had a very
steep learning curve," Stöhr said. "We are seeing that it is changing
very rapidly. We have also seen that it is not reassorting as everybody thought
18 months ago. So we do not know if a pandemic can occur next week or next
year, or perhaps if another virus is going to cause a pandemic. We should
simply continue with our pandemic preparedness."