In 2005 a number of books on bird flu came out, thanks to the fear that the avian or bird flu would become a killer virus killing millions of people around the world as the so-called Spanish Flu did in 1918.
That never happened (yet — it still could), but now that novel H1N1 (or swine flu) in a WHO-declared pandemic and U.S.-declared state of emergency, there’s a renewed interest in influenza.
During the bird flu panic we heard repeatedly from many influenza and public health experts that we were long overdue for another flu pandemic, since the last one was in 1968.
Bird flu viruses were infecting pigs, mixing genetic material with swine flu viruses and human flu viruses in massive numbers, we were told — especially in China and other parts of Southeast Asia. That’s because many people raise free-ranging chickens and pigs eat their droppings, and there are too many people, chickens and pigs. Not to mention too mention influenza viruses.
When the killer of a three year old Hong Kong boy in 1997 turned out to be an avian virus (H5N1) which experts believed could not cross over from birds to people, the alarm began to spread. Hong Kong killed the millions of chickens and ducks in its “wet markets,” and everybody hoped that would end the problem.
However, H5N1 began surfacing in dead wild fowl and domestic chickens in 2003, and soon was infecting people again. In 2004 another fear was realized — a Thai woman contracted and died from bird flu because of caring for her eleven year old daughter.
This was the first known case of human to human transmission of bird flu, and experts began fearing the worst. Especially since the mortality rate of those infected was around 60% — much worse even than the 1918 flu pandemic.
Fortunately, however, the virus has never (yet) mutated into a form that infected people easily.
Dr. Woodson covers the history and stages of influenza pandemics in general and avian (H5N1) in particular. Then he gives a lot of good advice on preparing for a pandemic, in case the worst happened.
One chapter is pretty much standard disaster preparation advice on keeping stocks of food, water and other supplies.
Other chapters are medical in nature and give good information on how to care for family members or members who have the flu when professional medical care is not available. Since this advice is general, it’s good for everyone to know even when they’re caring for someone with seasonal flu. Professional medical care is available, and the death rate is not so high, but you still want to know what you can do to help them.
One chapter gives extremely detailed advice on recording vital signs, measuring urine and other advanced topics more suitable for nurses. I couldn’t help but think that in a worst-case pandemic, most caregivers would be lucky just to keep their infected family members hydrated according to his earlier chapter.
The book ends with an interesting historical document — a letter written by an American Army doctor caring for Spanish flu patients in 1918.
In summary, this book is short but will remain valuable until we wipe out all influenza viruses.