The word “pandemic” applies to a worldwide outbreak. In contrast, an “epidemic” strikes a group of people in a restricted geographical area, not globally.
To break down the difference between the two for a more fundamental understanding, let’s break down the words:
The prefix epi in epidemic means “near” or “at.” In other words, the spread of the virus is near or at the surrounding area,
The prefix pan in pandemic means “all,” “of everything,” or “involving all members.” In other words, the spread of the virus involves everyone, the entire world.
A flu pandemic is a global outbreak of a novel strain that most people, if not all, have no immunity, ultimately causing widespread illness and death.
It’s so infectious that the number of new cases increases exponentially.
We will not be immune to the novel strain of the flu because our immune systems have not produced antibodies to that specific virus.
Ordinarily, your immune system creates particular antibodies, called “memory B cells.” If the same virus were to invade our bodies, the B cells would instantly generate a secondary immune response and stop us from getting sick.
Memory B cells work by attaching themselves to hemagglutinin, a particular protein found outside flu viruses. Hemagglutinin is what helps a flu virus attach and invade the cells in your respiratory tract.
When these Memory B cells work correctly, they will stop the virus from binding to your healthy cells and infecting them.
However, flu viruses are incredibly clever. The virus continually mutates, making it easier to bypass our immune system defenses.
Ultimately, our immune system creates antibodies to it, but we already suffered its consequences by that time.
Seldom our immune system overreacts to the virus, causing what is known as a “cytokine storm.” This is where your immune system overreacts so much that it starts damaging your healthy tissues. A cytokine storm may occur because of a compromised immune system due to older age, medications, etc.
In a flu pandemic, deaths mount fast, sometimes within hours.
How Are Flu Pandemics Different Than Ordinary Flu Seasons?
To begin with, unlike seasonal flu, flu pandemics become ubiquitous within days. The virus spreads worldwide in the blink of an eye. They have no prejudices or mercy. Status, age, your money means nothing to them. Their job is to look for a human host to multiply in.
For a flu pandemic to transpire, at least four simultaneous effects will be required:
- A new, extremely threatening virus has to emerge with the ability to have a human-to-human transfer.
- A defenseless population needs to be present that has no previous immunity to the new virus.
- The infection can spread quickly from person to person.
- The status of the virus has to be an epidemic before it becomes a pandemic.
As a rule of thumb, flu pandemics consist of two to three waves that take place within a period of one to two years:
- The first wave launches the virus globally. In this phase, many people will get overwhelmingly sick, and many will, unfortunately, die.
- The second wave that takes place approximately three to nine months later happens to be more destructive than the first or third, and many more countless people will get infected and die.
- When the third wave arrives, our immune systems have acquired those particular Memory B cells I mentioned earlier and can recognize the virus. They will destroy it before it tries to enter our healthy cells again. In this stage, the virus is no longer as potent and will no longer infect us.
Early discovery and control, such as social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, etc., are essential to keep the virus at bay and slow down its spread.
Detecting and controlling the early stages of a flu pandemic is only possible if there is a transparent communication between all countries.
Also, there must be adequate infrastructure, medical staff, enough equipment, and medicines that will be able to handle the incoming deluge of infected people.
Other Notable Differences Between Flu Pandemics And Seasonal Flu
With flu pandemics:
- Most have no immunity
- Extremely contagious
- Quickly turns to pneumonia
- Much higher fatality rate
- Can infect other parts of your body besides the lungs
A Short History Of Flu Pandemics
Flu pandemics appear to have been around much longer than the average person may think.
Hippocrates, the father of Moder Medicine, first mentioned the symptoms associated with such a pandemic, around 410 B.C. You can see from the report that flu pandemics have been recorded throughout history.
For example, one such pandemic struck in 1427. It killed the young and the elderly. Reports of this pandemic are available to the public in France and England. Currently, it is accepted as an actual influenza pandemic.
A worldwide pandemic spread worldwide in 1781. It originated in China and killed countless of younger people.
In 1889, another influenza pandemic that originated in Russia infected 40% of the world.
Interestingly, “influenza” is an Italian word meaning “influence.” In 1357, Italy was the first to call a flu virus an “influenza di freddo,” which means “cold influence.” This is how the word Influenza (the flu for short) was coined.
Since 1700, there have been about twelve influenza A virus pandemics.
Influenza A viruses are the most commons types that cause pandemics.
The Spanish Flu Of 1918
In the world’s recorded history, this pandemics has been by far the worst.
According to the CDC, over 50 million people died from it.
The Spanish flu consisted of three waves. The second was much more contagious and deadlier.
When the Spanish flu was recreated in a lab setting, scientists discovered it to be 100 times more potent than seasonal flu, and within four days, the virus released over 39,000 times more of its particles.
This incredible rate of replication would crush a human host. As you can see, all of the mice used in the experiment died.
The Asian Flu Of 1957
This pandemic killed over one million people worldwide.
There was a second wave in 1958, and the Asian Flu went on to become part of the regular part of the seasonal flu.
In 1957, somehow, vaccine production was executed quite fast; the World Health Organization launched vaccination operations that started immediately after the pandemic began.
Because the Asian Flu was a strain of a prior flu virus, it was easier to develop a vaccine. It is said that it may have lessened the number of deaths.
The Hong Kong Flu of 1968
This particular flu pandemic lasted from 1968 to 1972. Over one million people died worldwide.
The fatality rate for this virus was low, and as such, the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled it as a “category 2” pandemic.
The WHO uses six categories to label pandemics. Category 6 is the worst.
The Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009
When this virus emerged, it was an entirely new virus. In other words, no one had any type of immunity to it. This is what worried the WHO.
Interestingly, this virus targeted the young and not the elderly.
The total confirmed deaths are 18,449, which is low. However, the virus did spread worldwide, and it did meet the criteria for it being labeled a pandemic by the WHO.
The swine flu has not disappeared, and today it is still part of the seasonal flu that comes every year.
Although COVID-19 is not a flu virus, it is worthy of mention here. We are presently still in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of July 22, 2020, this coronavirus has not slowed down yet. We are still in the first phase, and so far, it has infected 15,153,211 people and killed 621,154.
I find it particularly strange that many people believe this virus is exaggerated and overblown.
COVID-19 is not nearly done. People are becoming cavalier, irrational, and complacent. Meanwhile, infections are skyrocketing in the USA, and Hong Kong has just seen an unexplained infection surge even though they have all defenses in place. Somehow, COVID-19 snuck through, and they have no idea how it returned there.
Is The World Ready To Handle The Next Flu Pandemic?
Realistically speaking, as it stands right now, a flu pandemic will be very difficult to stop. Millions of people would be infected and die before bringing it under control or changing its course.
However, there is a chance to stop it if it can be detected very early.
To achieve this feat, advanced and well-coordinated monitoring systems have been placed throughout the world.
Doctors from around the world send information on strange flu cases to scientific experts.
If these experts find anything peculiar, they will immediately send their findings to the Centers for Disease Control throughout the world.
If a pandemic is classified, the objective is to contain it. A speedy response is crucial.
Once the pandemic has begun, the following is in place to slow down the spread:
- Curtailing interactions between infected and uninfected populations: for example, through patient isolation, quarantine, social distancing practices, and school closures
- Reducing infectiousness of symptomatic patients: for example, through antiviral and antibiotic treatment and infection control practices
- Reducing susceptibility of uninfected individuals: for example, through vaccines.
Is There Anything Else Scientists Recommend To Be Used In A Flu Pandemic?
There are two particular substances that scientists claim that they have broad-spectrum capabilities against all influenza viruses and that they should be used in the next pandemics.
The first is “bovine colostrum.” Scientists have been studying it and suggest that its content may contain substances that can stop an epidemic or pandemic against avian Influenza, SARS, and many other respiratory diseases.
Scientists found that lactoferrin, a protein found in bovine colostrum, inhibited the H1N1 Influenza A virus throughout its infection cycle, but was especially more efficient during the initial phase of infection.
The H1N1 Influenza A virus is practically responsible for several pandemics, including the Spanish Flu of 1918, making bovine colostrum extremely important in fighting pandemics.
In a study published in 2017, scientists discovered that fucoidan, a substance from brown algae, blocked the Influenza A virus in its tracks. It inactivated the virus before the infection even started.
The study also stated the following:
- “…we found that K.W. could inhibit PR8 (H1N1), Minnesota (H3N2), Cal09 (H1N1) and TX09 (H1N1) virus replication in vitro, and the pandemic H1N1 virus (Cal09) was most susceptible to K.W. treatment (IC50 < 6.5 μg/ml). Moreover, compared to the anti-IAV drug amantadine and Oseltamivir, K.W. had low tendency of induction of viral resistance. Thus, fucoidan K.W. possesses broad-spectrum anti-IAV activities and low risk of inducing drug resistance.“
Scientists are saying that fucoidan has “broad-spectrum” capabilities against the Influenza A virus, and it is better than the antiviral drugs presently available to the public.
Flu pandemics have killed many people throughout history. It is imperative that a broad-spectrum antiviral or vaccine be developed. It’s not a matter of IF a flu pandemic will come, IT’S WHEN IT WILL COME.
COVID-19 snuck up on the world and is presently infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands.
Influenza pandemics cannot be predicted. If the world is not ready, millions will die.