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Avian Flu: What's All the Fuss About?

History and Future of the Bird Flu

A Look Through History

In 1918, there was a flu virus similar to H5N1. Initially it was difficult to catch—that is, until the virus mutated. Suddenly the world was under siege, and between 50 and 100 million people died—85 million more people than died in WWI. In fact, many believe that the crippling effects of the Spanish flu helped end the war.

In light of the recent flu scare, WHO in August 2005 called for every country to "strengthen national preparedness, reduce opportunities for a pandemic virus to emerge, improve the early warning system, delay initial international spread, and accelerate vaccine development." Though WHO and other organizations are doing their best to prepare the global community, the word is ill equipped to handle a potential pandemic.

How to Protect Yourself

What's your best defense? While it may seem dramatic, U.S. officials recommend you keep a stockpile of canned food and bottled water, along with an emergency radio, at home. Now is the perfect time to make sure you have those supplies for this or any other national or international emergency. And get a flu shot. It won't protect you from the H5N1 flu, but it can spare you from getting the common flu virus. What's more, a weak immune system is less able to fight off a lethal virus.

Looking Ahead

The news has not all been grim. Tamiflu, for example, has successfully treated patients with H5N1. However, it's not 100 percent effective—some people are resistant to the drug, which is in limited supply.

Meanwhile, a joint Indonesia-Japan venture has created a flu vaccine for poultry to help slow the spread of the flu. Japanese drugmaker Shigeta claims that Asian companies have requested 517 million doses of the vaccine. But until the flu is eradicated, the best course of action is to stay informed.

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