Via The Sydney Morning Herald, an April 6 report: Flu pandemic likelihood increasing as new strains emerge, UNSW researchers warn. Excerpt:
A gathering number of new influenza strains in the past five years has escalated the likelihood of a major influenza pandemic on the scale of the deadly Spanish flu, researchers say.
UNSW researchers in the school of public health are calling for better collaboration between countries and first responder agencies in the event of a flu pandemic.
Their study published in the Archives of Public Health identified 19 separate influenza strains that have emerged in humans during the past century, including seven in the past five years alone.
Raina MacIntyre, director of the UNSW's Integrated Systems for Epidemic Response, said the unprecedented rise in new strains appeared to be a true increase and not just a matter of more cases being detected.
"The question is, why?" Professor MacIntyre said.
"Some of the reasons involve things like climate change and its impact on pathogens, changes like urbanisation, but none of these things have increased at the rate the virus is increasing so there's something else going on."
The Spanish flu, which killed 50 million people in 1918-19, was followed by a 40-year hiatus during which no new flu strains emerged, and then a 10-year gap from the one after that to the next.
But the emergence of strains has gathered pace in the past 15 years.
Professor MacIntyre said a repeat of the Spanish flu was "very possible" and countries and sectors such as health, agriculture, defence and emergency services needed to collaborate better on how to respond in such an event.
"We are somewhat prepared, but when pandemics occur there are almost always unanticipated scenarios," she said. "When health systems become stressed and unable to cope with the sick, that is when we are truly tested."