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SCIENCE

This week : The history of epidemics on show in Paris

Text by Eve IRVINE

Latest update : 2009-05-11

Influenza A (H1N1), the latest flu epidemic to break out, has raised temperatures around the world. FRANCE 24 visits "Epidemic, the contagious exhibition" in Paris to learn more about the history of epidemics.

In this week’s show, we focus on the Influenza A (H1N1) virus.

 

Epidemics like Chikungunya, dengue fever, SARS and the flu are all around us - and they’re at the heart of “Epidemik – the Contagious Exhibition” in Paris. The 500-square-metre show, at the Cité des Sciences, is gaining all the more attention since the outbreak of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus. It brings visitors to the heart of an outbreak and teaches them how to best react and cope with such a crisis.

 

As you will sometimes see on our show, humans’ reactions are not always the best. Since the latest virus broke out, a black market has opened up on the net. Fearing the flu, potential patients across the globe have tried to shake off the virus before they ever caught it, stocking up on antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu. With doctors only prescribing the treatment to those already infected, many people have turned to the net, paying above the odds and potentially buying fake medication. Yet the regular flu, the one that's been around for years, remains a bigger killer - for now at least.

 

Influenza is a virus that is constantly evolving and adapting. When a new strain breaks out it takes over the media airwaves. But still circulating behind the new form is the regular, seasonal flu. And despite the antiviral medicines and vaccinations available, it kills up to half a million people around the world every year.

 

While its good to remain calm in a crisis, one also has to know when to act. The World Health Organisation was quick to sound the alarm bells with this new flu strain, wanting to contain and control as much as possible. But, according to some critics, their cry for help was too early and too loud.

 

As the world tries to predict where the virus is going, it's time for something strange but true. In the US, George Washington might be able to help scientists follow the flu. Because a virus, like cash, is easily exchanged between people, scientists say imagining that the virus is traveling on the back of a dollar bill can be a good way to track the outbreak. More than 10 years ago a website called “Where's George?” was set up by a computer programmer who was curious to see how far and how fast his money traveled. Millions of people logged on, tracking the travel of dollar bills. It's a system that scientists are now looking to copy to try and keep an eye on Influenza A.

 

Finally, we talk to Professor Elizabeth Bouvet of Paris’s Bichat hospital, where a number of the French patients with Influenza A were treated. She gives us her opinion on the future of the new flu.

Date created : 2009-05-10

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