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Stay Safe From The H1N1 Mexican Swine Flu: Why This Virus Is The Same As The 1918 Strain

Updated on April 29, 2009

Influenza epidemics are primarily found to assail the very young and the older members of society. The reason is that human beings develop over time a considerable number of specialized proteins generally known as antibodies to the many varying strains of influenza, each antibody specifically developed and corresponding to a previous infection of the body. The antibodies will attach themselves to very particular and unique viral proteins. When a virus, whether influenza or any other disease-causing type, enters the human body the antibodies lock themselves onto a protrusion sticking out from the virus which is known as the H spike. This action has the desired effect of blocking out this "key" so that there is nothing that the virus can do to fit into the living cell, comandeering it to create almost endless copies of itself.

There is yet another type of antibody whose job is to bind to another type of protrusion from the virus. This looks not so much as a spike but a mushroom, so we can call them N mushrooms. This blockage prevents any virus which has actually made it into commandeering a human host cell from breaking out of the cell membrane in order to freely spread throughout the body.

There are different types of influenza viruses and they are classified according to the particular shape, composition and detailed structure of the H spikes and N mushrooms. That's where we get the nomenclature from. H1N1 is the first type of H spike discovered by medical science and the first type of N mushroom as well: Therefore, H1N1 is in many ways the prototypical pandemic influenza strain. If you have a virus that has an element that was discovered later, for example H2N2, that nomenclature describes a very different flu generally known as The Russian Flu or The Asian Flu while H3N2 is the Hong Kong Flu, and so on.

Each antibody that the human body has offers a powerful level of protection from being reinfected with that specific strain of flu, but does not help us to fight off any new strains as it is incapable of binding to them. In these cases of new infection, the unique antibody must be developed within the body, perhaps in time before the virus causes devastation throughout the body leading to death. If the antibody is successful in its task, we live. If it fails, we die. It's as simple as that.

However, as we get older, our immune system shows a marked and accelerating tendency to become less effective and weaker. Our immune system finds it increasingly difficult to fight off the newer strains of influenza and slowly begins to "lose its memory" of the specific types of influenza causing viruses that were previously fought off.

This is the reason why it is possible for the same strain of influenza which has already infected a person to reinfect that same person when they reach an advanced age. This is in sharp contrast with the younger and considerably healthier members of humanity who find that it is quite impossible to be reinfected by the identical strain of influenza as their antibodies still possess an excellent "memory" of the previous infection.

In the case of children, their immune system can be powerful and strong, but the fact remains that it has still not fought many strains of influenza: Thus in a child the immune system "memory" doesn't have that much to remember, creating an excellent subject for viruses to attack and win.

One of the primary factors that made the dreaded Spanish Flu so frightening that it was atypical: The H1N1 of 1918 vintage did not follow the traditional model of influenza A in giving preference to attacking the young and old. For a variety of reasons that have never been properly explained by medical science, many of the Spanish Flu victims were in their twenties and thirties

That is by far the single most frightening aspect of the current Mexican epidemic. The vast majority of the 81 dead individuals as of the afternoon of Sunday, April 26, 2009 were aged in their twenties and thirties.

This is a completely atypical demographic for influenza casualties. And this is why this H1N1 outbreak could mark the return of the Spanish Flu, but amplified by the velocity of the jet age.

If that is indeed the case, there may be nowhere to hide.

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Stay Safe From The H1N1 Mexican Swine Flu: Keeping A Business Alive Through The Pandemic

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    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Yes, as anyone gets older it's not just their brains that start forgetting but also their immune systems. Let's just hope that all of ours have nice fresh memories, as we can only hope that this new epidemic doesn't turn into a pandemic and zap us all! :(

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      This article is true - I had Whooping cough twice as an adult. Second time pretty mild. But early vaccinations wore off.