I recently did a little research into pandemics and pathogens for a story I’m writing. I discovered some very interesting stuff, like – there were more pandemics in the 1900’s than I knew about. I knew there was one in 1918, but apparently there were two smaller flu pandemics as well, in 1957-8 and 1968-9. They were bad enough that 70,000 died in America in the first one and 34,000 in the second. That’s not as many as the 1918 flu (675,000 dead in the U.S., including at least one of my great-grandparents), but it’s still a lot of people. I’m yet again amazed by what we *don’t* learn in school. This other site talks about even more epidemics in the 1960’s that were apparently not as bad, but significant enough to be mentioned.

Also, the CDC has a “Pandemic Severity Index” similar to our hurricane ratings – category 1 through category 5. The pandemics I mentioned above that happened in the second half of the 20th century were both category 2 pandemics, while the pandemic in 1918 was a category 5. The category designation would determine what measures would be taken. For instance, if an H5N1 outbreak occurred, we would close schools (or not) for a certain length of time based on how high the category rating was.

The government has set up a website just for this: pandemicflu.gov. At the time I posted this, the WHO pandemic alert for H5N1 was phase 3. When it gets to phase 6, we’ve got a pandemic.

I didn’t hear about it on the news, but apparently in December, two people in Egypt were diagnosed with a tamiflu-resistant strain of H5N1. They were diagnosed quickly and received hospital care (including Tamiflu, before the doctors knew it was a resistant strain), but both died.