Talking Evolution – The Challenge of Influenza – Part 2

In my previous post, I detailed the nature of the influenza virus and its impact on personal health. In this post, we’ll look at how and why this virus is such a challenge for humanity. Despite prodigious advancements in medical care as well as vaccine technology, we still face yearly health hazards from seasonal influenza, as well as the generational threat from occasional influenza pandemics. … Continue reading Talking Evolution – The Challenge of Influenza – Part 2

Talking Evolution: The Challenge of Influenza – Part 1

It’s that time of year again. It’s “Flu Season”—and those words mean different things to different people. For some of us, “flu season” is synonymous with the idea that we might come down with a “cold” and feel crummy for a few days. For a smaller group, it means that we are at risk of a life-threatening illness. As a teacher of middle school students, … Continue reading Talking Evolution: The Challenge of Influenza – Part 1

Flu Forecasting

HEALTH Imagine being able to predict when the flu might strike your town, a bit like how meteorologists predict when a storm is heading your way. That’s exactly what infectious disease experts—and mapmakers—are doing. (CNN) Use our resources to better understand the importance of mapping to public health. Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit. Discussion Ideas Read … Continue reading Flu Forecasting

Demystifying the Swine Flu Pandemic…with Geography!

GeoNews_SwineFlu_Resize.jpgCitizens around the world are concerned about the swine flu (H1N1) virus, which has been most insidious in Mexico but is also affecting travelers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and a growing number of nations. As of May 11, 3 U.S. deaths and upwards of 4,700 cases had been confirmed, with hundreds more suspected; as shown on Google

and Rhiza Lab’s Swine Flu incidence map.

Amid all the hype, assessing the real risks posed by the global spread of the disease can be daunting. Terms like “outbreak,” “epidemic,” and “pandemic” are often used liberally and interchangeably, infecting listeners with fear and confusion. Luckily, My Wonderful World is here to the rescue! The distinctions among these terms, and their implications, are–you guessed it–geographic.

Here’s a quick primer: An outbreak occurs when the reported cases of a disease are greater than the levels predicted for a given area or period of time. That means that if one person is predicted to get the flu in your town, and two become ill, it’s an outbreak! Outbreaks are usually, but not always, limited in geographic scale. The current swine influenza was considered to have reached outbreak status in April as a result of growing numbers of cases in Mexico.

Technically, the term epidemic can be used synonymously with outbreak, but it typically refers to a larger-scale incident affecting greater numbers of people in a more expansive geographic area. Confirmed reports of swine flu in the United States and Canada signaled an epidemic. 

A pandemic is an epidemic that has reached global proportions. The World Health Organization recognizes six stages or “phases” in the development of pandemic flu (these stages largely replace use of the terms outbreak and epidemic). The phases are categorized according to several factors including (1) virus presence in animals and/or humans, (2) rate of transmission, (3) geographic extent of the disease and (4) response recommendations.

Continue reading “Demystifying the Swine Flu Pandemic…with Geography!”