Outwitting deadly flu

Don't panic yet, but a swine flu pandemic looks set to storm the world and will likely extract a grisly toll when it hits South Africa.

Don't panic yet, but a swine flu pandemic looks set to storm the world and will likely extract a grisly toll when it hits South Africa.

Viral diseases seldom cross from one species to another, but tend to be deadlier when they do.

Our bodies build a natural resistance to diseases they encounter, but have no defence against a strain of flu they haven't been exposed to.

Because we have no natural defences, these strains sweep through the population when the virus mutates to spread from human to human. Three similar flu pandemics crossed the world in the 20th century and all claimed a heavy toll.

No vaccine for humans yet exists for this strain, which has killed about one in 10 of those infected in Mexico, where it broke out. It is most dangerous for those with weakened immune systems, but has shown a strange pattern in claiming the lives of many healthy young adults.

Antiviral treatment is available, but it is expensive and we don't have enough doses stockpiled if the disease spreads to South Africa.

All the average person can now do is practise stringent hygiene, and avoid crowded places and sick people.

Our health authorities must now urgently step up and tell us how they plan to contain this pandemic that looms above us all.

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