Van E. Harl


The Colonel wanted to attend a public health briefing about the H1N1 flu pandemic that has hit the world. I advised her I would like to go with her to hear the latest information on this potential global killer.

In 1917-1918 there was a flu pandemic that killed in excess of 60 million people and by some later estimates it killed 100 million. Because WW I was raging and both sides censored their press, very little correct information got out to the public. Spain was not in that war and their press was not censored, so most of the current and correct information about that flu pandemic came from Spain. This is the reason the 1918 flu was called the Spanish flu. Spain got beat up for something they did not start, they just reported on it.

The 1918 flu started in the US, at an Army camp in Kansas. A young farm boy, who was most likely exposed to the flu at home, joined the Army and took the potential mass killer with him. He infected the camp just as troops were being put on trains to the east coast. These soon to be dying soldiers boarded ships for France and by the time they got to Europe some ships had lost half the passengers to flu. The US gave the world the 1918 flu.

Unbeknownst to America, we released the first 20th century, weapon of mass destruction. The Germans were winning the war, even with the introduction of fresh US Soldiers and Marines. As the flu spread out to the trenches of France it was passed over to the Germans. For some reason the German troops suffered higher rates of illness and death and in the end it forced Germany to surrender. And an American soldier from Kansas gave the world this pandemic, not some pig or chicken from Asia spreading its germs on a peasant farm worker.

Well if would appear that the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic flu has also started in the US: California to be precise. The magic of air travel has allowed it to go world wide in a matter of months if not weeks. From the briefing we received, the H1N1 is expected to peak in October/November time. Unlike the usual seasonal flu that peaks in January/February.

When people hear the word pandemic they think millions will die from a spreading disease. Pandemic means there is a massive spreading out across the world of a disease, but it does not address the severity of that disease. So far the severity has been mild and the death rate relatively low.

Historically many of the flu outbreaks in the past 100 years have attacked the old, the young and people with other existing health issues. It would appear that the 2009-2010 H1N1 flu virus is going to affect the young healthy adults in the 20-30 year range. So far it is not expected to kill anywhere near the magnitude of 1918, but remember what I am passing on, is what I got at the H1N1 flu briefing. A good briefing, but as the briefer stated, it is still a best guess prediction.

The Air Force Academy had an outbreak of H1N1 in June/July of this summer with the freshmen class of cadets. The new cadets were already headed to the field for training and were going to be split up in smaller groups. This allowed the Air Force to use what is called in the pandemic business, social distancing. Keep people away from other people and maybe they will not cross contaminate one another. They had hundreds of sick cadets, but no deaths.

The most startling point of the H1N1 briefing was the danger to pregnant women. Pregnant women who contract H1N1 have a six times greater chance of dying of this flu than any other category of people – six times the rate of death. I would suggest that the fall of 2009 is not the time to be thinking about having a baby. If you are pregnant you truly need to get your flu shot(s) right now. Get the regular fall flu shot, which is currently available and push your way to the head of the line when the H1N1 flu shot is released to the public.

It is not understood why pregnant women have this dramatically higher rate of death, but to me it is the most stand-out point in this latest pandemic. Think real hard about starting that family in the coming spring. If you have children they need you more than a potential new family member. “But it is just the flu” said President Wilson in 1918.