Bird Flu Planners Urged To Study 1918 Pandemic

Roundup: Media's Take

It's all well and good to stockpile flu drugs such as Tamiflu or Relenza, but historian John M. Barry says preparations for a global bird flu pandemic should also include such staples as food and water.

The lack of those basic necessities, he warned public health officials yesterday, proved fatal during the 1918 flu pandemic, the subject of his 2004 book, "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History."

The American Red Cross reported flu sufferers starving to death in 1918 because people who weren't sick refused to go near them, Mr. Barry said in an address to the Pennsylvania Public Health Association and Public Health Institute conference at the Hilton Pittsburgh, Downtown.

In many ways, Americans today are more vulnerable to food disruptions than they were in 1968, the year of the latest flu pandemic, Mr. Barry said. People today eat more perishable food -- using fewer canned foods, for instance -- and eat many more meals in restaurants.

It's not hard to imagine severe stresses on society if, as health officials fear, a virulent strain of flu, known as H5N1, found in birds in Asia and Europe, undergoes genetic changes that allows it to be transmitted from person to person.

All influenza originates in birds, but H5N1, like the 1918 flu, appears to be particularly deadly and is unlike other flu strains now in circulation, so no human has developed any immunity against it. Between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide died of the flu in 1918.

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