Agents of Bioterrorism: Pathogens and Their Weaponization

By Geoffrey Zubay | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
INFLUENZA VIRUS

Rian Balfour

Influenza virus (IV) causes the respiratory disease known as influenza (“the flu”). The virus infects 10 to 20% of the U.S. population yearly. Of those infected, approximately 114,000 are hospitalized and 20,000 die due to influenza and/or complications caused by the virus. Despite these overwhelming statistics of infection and mortality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not classify IV as a bioterrorism threat. However, the characteristics of the virus do indeed render it a likely, but highly ignored, germ weapon threat. A pathogen that kills more people than the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), claimed the lives of 40 million people in less than two years, and routinely mutates into highly lethal forms should be considered a potential bioweapon.


HISTORY

Following Livy’s History of Rome, which described an influenza-like disease that affected the Roman and Carthaginian armies in 212 B.C., no record of influenza or influenza-like symptoms appeared until 1781. Between 1781 and 1782, an influenza pandemic infected two-thirds of Rome’s population and three-fourths of Britain’s population. The disease continued to spread in North America, the West Indies, and South America. The spread of this pandemic culminated with an influenza epidemic in New England, New York, and Nova Scotia in 1789. 1781 marked the inception of the average 10- to 40-year cycle of emergent influenza epidemics and pandemics.

Like clockwork, the first half of the nineteenth century witnessed isolated epidemics in several regions of the world. Most notable were the outbreaks in Asia, which started in 1829, and Russia, which commenced during the winter of 1830. The Asian outbreak of influenza spread to Indonesia by January

-79-

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