By now, you should be use to worrying about the flu. Avian flu (H5N1) and swine flu (H1N1) have dominated global health news cycles in recent years–probably because pandemic flu is one global health issue that can affect rich countries–spurring calls to increase our public health preparedness.
That neither epidemic reached catastrophic proportions should not lead one to believe that the risk is not real. In fact, it may have been our rapid and widespread response to swine flu that stemmed its spread. Having said that, it’s not immediately clear that flu preparedness should receive the same funding as anti-HIV or anti-diarrhea campaigns.
Nevertheless, it appears there may be a new strain of flu to watch out for. According to an editorial published in Nature this month, people under 50 may have low levels of immunity to H2N2 strains of the flu. Such strains killed millions in the 1950s and 1960s, but after the threat subsided, these strains were left out of annual inoculations.
Researchers are suggesting that giving people under 50 a one-time vaccine containing an H2N2 strain will offer sufficient protection in the event of future outbreaks. Others are less confident about the cost-effectiveness of such an approach. Which leads to the same unanswerable questions we asked ourselves when staring down avian and swine flu epidemics: how big is the risk of a pandemic and how devastating would it have to be to merit resource-intensive preemptive intervention?