bird flu
Accelerated rise has been observed in the origin of new flu strains.Reuters 

It's been more than 6,000 years since humans started facing flu pandemics caused by influenza. Experts now think that the next one to strike us will affect humanity more adversely.

The influenza virus, first discovered and classified by American physician Richard Shope in 1931, still exists and we haven't found any permanent way to get rid of it yet.

The influenza virus is able to transform regularly and rigorously, which triggers the need for scientists to develop new flu vaccinations every year. There are numerous flu viruses that make humans sick, and a pandemic virus, which is extremely communicable among humans, is one of them. What makes humans vulnerable to this virus is the absence of immunity. It causes severe ailments and even death.

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Humans have turned immune to some seasonal viruses that used to be pandemic once, because exposure to these microbes has generated some immunity in the body to fight these viruses.

A study published in Archives of Public Health, the official journal of the Belgian Public Health Association, on March 27 revealed that a quick spike has been observed in the number of cases of flu strains infecting people since 1918 when the Spanish flu pandemic struck the world, and up to 500 million people were affected by the H1N1 influenza virus. A new virus then originated 39 years later, and yet another virus emerged a decade after the second outbreak.

However, seven new flu strains have spurted since 2011, and these have been found to be spreading faster than before. 

The researchers accumulated data regarding the country where the infection emerged, characteristics of person/s affected (sex, age, occupation), clinical signs, mortalities, details of animal exposure and pathogenic classification of virus on a yearly basis.

The causes behind this sudden rise remain a mystery, but according to the study, some of the causes are guesstimated to be:

  • Improved medical techniques and diagnostics
  • Climate changes
  • Ecological impacts
  • Urbanisation
  • Altered practices introduced in poultry farming and animal management

Also, these aspects haven't transformed at the same pace and rate at which the new microbes have emerged. Another possible reason behind this sudden spurt of influenza is the use of advanced genetic engineering, which created these new varieties of influenza strains, either by accident or on purpose.

We probably had a near miss of a pandemic strain arising in Indonesia in 2006, but the remote location and early detection mitigated the risk.

Experiments to engineer influenza viruses have been published since 2011, but these have been considered controversial for the possible risks they pose in comparison to the relative possible benefit.

Various measures have to be taken by people to prevent a pandemic. Taking precautions such as avoiding going to mass gathering during flu epidemics, quarantine, maintaining hygiene as well as getting vaccinations and drugs on the right time are the few ways in which one can stay safe from the infection.

One of the major hardships being faced is developing the right drug on time, as creating a new vaccine requires at least three to six months. The flu could spread within two months, and hence vaccines can be used only after the epidemic starts.