Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Flu and SARS, heart attacks and the weather

If you want to survive, you have to know your potential killers. One of them is constantly present in the medical journals. The next big flu pandemia will come sooner or later. It will kill mainly the old and the ill. But, unfortunately, surviving the flu is no guarantee for staying alive. A time of flu is also a time of heart attacks, exactly, of myocardial infarctions. This link has been confirmed in an eight year death statistics of St Petersburg, Russia: The odds of dying from heart attack rise by 30 percent during a flu epidemic. This is considerable, yet we have to keep in mind that a person suffering from coronary heart disease is bound to die earlier than a healthy person. Thus, we do not speak of excess deaths here but rather of accelerated deaths. And yes, this is commonplace as we all must die.

Both flu and heart attacks are linked to weather, that is, to cold weather. Winter is flu season. But this is not the case with SARS, a closely related disease. The danger of an outbreak of this respiratory virus infection is highest with moderate temperatures and a high air pressure. When it is cold or very hot, the infection rate drops, as an analysis of the Chinese outbreak of 2003 has shown. Fortunately, SARS seems to be no danger at the moment, but we should be warned. Any new virus spreading around the world and killing people will be favoured by certain weather conditions. We can do anything against a virus, but we cannot change weather. - (Picture by shengfalin @ Flickr)

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