I thought it would be appropriate to give a little history on influenza or “Flu”. At the very end I’ll retell a personal story from around 1990 on Glen Rose. There are lots of great historical sites on the Spanish Flu of 1918. It killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide, or 3-5% of the entire world’s population, so we need to treat flu with respect. If you look at old cemeteries, you’ll see lots of deaths in that 1918-19 time frame, sadly many children. There’s one deserted cemetery in the woods near Blum with Civil War graves and about thirty graves for almost an entire town wiped out on the Brazos River. There’s a lot of information on the internet so hopefully I can condense down to “flu is bad, wash your hands, don’t get coughed on”. A lot of flu deaths at that time in 1918 happened because of secondary bacterial pneumonia and dehydration. While the virus can kill by itself, we now can support the patient with antibiotics for the bacterial infections and fluids for the dehydration.
The flu is not just one virus, but a family of viruses. You have heard of H1N1, Avian Influenza (H5N2), Swine Flu, and others. The H and the N refers to specific proteins the scientists have identified and they are also numbers denoting the different variants, kind of like make and model of a car. That’s enough on that. Flu viruses can mutate, and that’s the bad thing about them. Some viruses only are transmitted from animal to animal. Not too bad because we can track them, develop vaccines, and be around the animals without a problem. The Avian Influenza outbreak of 1983 in the Northeast U.S. wiped out the chicken and turkey flocks of Eastern Pennsylvania. I got to be a veterinarian for the government in that one. That version of avian influenza was strictly bird to bird. If that type of virus mutates, it could transmit from animals to man, and that gets to be more of a problem. Lastly, if the virus mutates again, it not only goes from animals to man, it may be able to go from person to person directly. That spells epidemic where lots of people are getting sick. The big word is “pandemic” when it affects the global population of people.
The map at the top of this post – you may need to click on it to make it bigger – shows migratory bird paths and how they can transmit the typical flu. Note that the birds in Southeast Asia follow the blue path when they go north for the summer, and they intermix with the North American birds on the red and green paths. Our birds pick up the virus in the summertime, bring in back in the fall when they fly south. If it’s a just a bird to bird virus, not too bad. If it’s a bird to human virus, that’s what we try to identify to develop vaccines. Oh and the really fun part? When Asia is having flu in people, there’s usually 20 strains or so and our scientists are trying to pick out the hottest three viruses to make vaccine. For this year (2013), they had to be in Asia during the winter flu season in 2012, make the vaccine in the spring, and distribute the vaccine “NOW” in October to reduce the flu impact. Picking the top three viruses isn’t easy. And I did mention they mutate? So you might make a vaccine, and then the darn thing mutates, and your vaccine for that strain is worthless.
The modern world also has thrown in another problem. American Airlines just announced direct flights to Hong Kong from Dallas. It wouldn’t be bad except you know it’s a round trip. If someone picks up a nasty flu in Hong Kong, in less than a day he’s brought it back to North Texas. That flu bug didn’t need the migratory birds to gradually get it here.
Vaccines. So in about January of the year, the Center for Disease Control has identified it’s top three contestants from virus strains all over the world. Chosen viral strains are inoculated into 90 million fertilized chicken eggs in which the viruses are incubated. The eggs are opened, and the virus is extracted and purified. Then the virus is treated chemically to kill it. You are getting a “KILLED” vaccine – you are NOT GOING TO GET SICK WITH THE FLU FROM THE VACCINE. Okay, caps to get that straight. HOWEVER (caps again), you are still getting injected with a little bit of egg with the virus in your arm. Some people don’t like egg protein in their arm. Some arms swell up and are very sore. My arm does okay with chicken egg origin shots, but it HATES duck embryo shots. The old style rabies vaccine was duck egg based and caused my arm to swell from my elbow to the shoulder. On the technical side, if they had more time to develop vaccines, they would have recombinant dna vaccines made from bacteria of all things.. extremely pure and easy to take. Most of our childhood vaccines are made like this now. Just for historical sake, Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine for rabies, using infected rabbit brain tissue. He killed the virus with formaldehyde, “purified” a puree of brains and virus, and gave that as a shot. It was an ugly vaccine that also caused some people to have severe immune reactions in their own brain causing death. It’s better now, don’t worry.
Bottom line — I’m still an advocate of flu shots. Wash your hands, avoid getting coughed on, avoid close crowds, stay healthy, you know, stuff your mom says.
This is a neat story. I bought my veterinary clinic in 1984 in Glen Rose. Glen Rose was famous for a Sanitarium just off the square in the 1920’s, much like the mineral waters of Mineral Wells or Arkansas. We had surface water, really shallow wells, and flowing water from the fountain at the courthouse. It was nasty tasting stuff, loaded with sulfur. I’m going to say it still is nasty and you can come to the clinic to taste it as I’ve still got a relatively shallow well that dips into that aromatic layer! Well, as the population increased, and more people were drilling wells, the water table dropped enough where the courthouse fountain stopped flowing. We gave a collective sigh and moved on (they later drilled a well to restore water flow). An old man came into my clinic around 1990 and asked if he could get some drinking water. He had several gallon jugs ready to fill. Really? I told him I didn’t think he’d like my water but he’s welcome to try it first. One sip, and he said “that’s it”, and he started filling his jugs. As we were standing there, he said that in 1919, their family lived out at Chalk Mountain and his brother was dying of the flu. The doctor had come out – you know it was probably by wagon – and said he couldn’t do anything else for him. At that point, the father took his wagon down into Glen Rose, to the courthouse fountain, filled his barrel up with Glen Rose water, and took it back to his dying son. He recovered and lived on.
Well, seventy years later, his brother is in my clinic, and now tells me his brother is sick again with another problem, and for old times sake, he would come to Glen Rose to get him some water. Low and behold, the courthouse fountain wasn’t flowing anymore. I can’t even imagine how he felt at that disappointment. Somehow, he found out I was still on a well and that’s what brought him to my clinic that day. As he was topping off the last jug, he asked, “How much for the water?” I tear up just writing it. No charge.
So add one more thing on your flu list. Drink Glen Rose Water. Now that the courthouse has a well working at the fountain, go ahead and taste the water. You may have to hold your nose but it’s saved at least one person from the flu!
Thanks again. Dr. Mike.