Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico afficionados, and welcome to another installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular segment on the unusual and interesting aspects of medical history. Today’s issue is the second in a three-part series of guest articles written by students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. The KJF Program is a three-year after-school and summer internship for Philadelphia high school students from underserved communities who have an interest in careers in healthcare and medicine. These two wrote these articles as part of a two-week summer internship wherein they worked closely with staff in the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and conducted original research on a topic of their choice. This time around, Karabots Junior Fellow Cliford Louis is here to inform you about influenza.
The floor is yours, Clif!
On March 11, 1918 at Fort Riley, Kansas, a soldier reported a fever before breakfast and was later followed by other soldiers with the same complaints. By the end of that week, 500 soldiers were ill and being hospitalized. They were early victims of the infamous Spanish flu. An estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the epidemic, more than all of the wars this century combined, and the disease killed millions worldwide during World War I. At first, scientists considered it a bacterial infection. Nowadays, scientists can confidently describe flu as a virus and explain what it does to the human body once they contain the strain of this virus.
What is the flu …?
“The influenza virus is a member of the family [Orthomyxoviridae]” (Dehner 23), meaning that the flu is a group of RNA virus. There are three types of influenza: A, B, and C.
Type C is considered unimportant because it rarely causes infection.
Type B is mildly infectious, but it can cause epidemics.
Type A causes the greater threat to humanity; it attacks the respiratory system, and it is highly contagious.
The influenza virus is a single stranded RNA virus and normally attacks the epithelial cell. Once the virus reaches the cell, it seizes it to develop new copies of the virus.
“Ultimately the influenza virus destroys any infected cell by destroying the outer layer. The daughter cells that infect adjoining epithelial cells quickly produce many millions of copies of the virus” (Dehner 24).
This describes the effect of the virus inside of an infected person, and it shows why this epidemic was so deadly. Moreover, the explosive spread and large impact of the virus proves its immense dominance during the time of war. An infected person can transmit the virus to another person through the air by a cough or sneeze.
Animals such as pigs, waterfowl, seals, horses and whales are considered sources containing the virus; they can catch and transmit the influenza virus to humans.
“Strategies of containment and eradication are impractical because the virus has unquantifiable opportunities for jumping from its natural host to other species, including humans” (Dehner 27).
“To be effective, any response to a pandemic strain must be quick enough to stay ahead of the rapidly transmissible influenza virus, consideration even more important in today’s increasingly interconnected world” (Dehner 196).
Even with current medicine and increasingly powerful technologies, the virus cannot be eliminated in the world; therefore, the CDC recommends yearly flu vaccines for everyone from six months old and older. Flu season is an important time in the world; the recommendation from doctors, nurses and other medical stuff to receive the flu shot is very vital in society. These vaccines creates antibodies, which helps to prevent viruses including the influenza. ‘Influenza pandemics are relatively rare events.’
Previous history of influenza epidemics around the world over the past century can really help scientists finding a unique vital antidote to eradicate the flu. A lot has been learned about the influenza virus, but there is still plenty to be known and discovered to reach the stage of elimination for the virus.
Dehner, George. Influenza A Century of Science and Public Health Response. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012.
Thanks, Clif! Be sure to check back for our final guest article. Until next time, catch you on the strange side!