[FOUNTAIN]The human body and fighting the flu

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[FOUNTAIN]The human body and fighting the flu

Numerous young soldiers who fought in World War I lost their lives in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, but among the aged, only a few succumbed.
To obtain a vaccine against this deadly flu, the U.S. government conducted a medical experiment on 62 criminals who were sentenced to death and promised to set them free if they survived. The elderly prisoners walked out of the prison in perfect shape; only the young doctors who participated in the experiment died.
Colds and influenza are different diseases. A cold is a rather light disease that causes inflammation in the nose and throat, and patients usually suffer from a runny nose and a cough. Influenza is accompanied by high fever and sometimes pneumonia, and in the worst cases the patient dies. Fortunately, there is an anti-influenza vaccine and a medical treatment available for influenza. The reason the elderly people were able to tolerate the Spanish flu was because they had developed antibodies while afflicted with a similar type of flu in the 1850s.
Recently, in light of the bird flu occurrence over the past couple of years, advanced countries are busy stockpiling flu medicine. Tamiflu, from the Swiss drug maker Roche, is the only treatment and preventive medicine that has been developed so far. It is a drug that kills the virus by blocking the functioning of an enzyme the virus needs in order to proliferate. This year, Tamiflu sales are expected to be at least $700 million.
It is too early to be relieved though. Before Tamiflu, there was a cheap and effective drug called Amantadine. It stopped being used, however, since it was ineffective against the new type-B influenza. The drug was used extensively on chickens and ducks with bird flu, and the virus developed resistance to the drug.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently warned China not to use influenza drugs made for humans on poultry. If the influenza virus develops resistance again, the valuable Tamiflu could also become useless.
There is no need to be afraid yet. Predicted disasters rarely become actualized. “Find the virus. When the virus is used as the vaccine, humans can confront the virus.” The advice Louis Pasteur, a French biologist, gave 120 years ago is still valid. The human body is not that simple, either. Due to the resistance developed by human bodies, AIDS, syphilis and tuberculosis germs have lost much of their virulence.
Above all, prevention is better than any medicine. The World Health Organization advises that plenty of rest, washing hands frequently and drinking plenty of water is the best way to confront bird flu.


by Lee Chul-ho

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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