The enormous risks of pandemic
flu were, five years ago, known to only a few - often
dedicated historians and medical specialists. Today,
after SARS and with the novel H1N1 "swine flu"
sweeping the world and the much more lethal avian
flu virus H5N1 threatening the world, awareness of
pandemic flu has increased exponentially. Intense
efforts aimed at averting an international calamity
are now found in many countries worldwide.
We at MIT’s Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals
are not focused on medical research. While we’re
all hopeful of breakthroughs that could produce a
vaccine quickly and inexpensively, current best practice
suggests that approval of an effective vaccine will
take at least six months after the offending virus
(perhaps H5N1, but perhaps a different variant) mutates
to become human-to-human efficiently transmittable.
Within six months, the entire world could be engulfed
with pandemic flu. Even after six months, finite production
capacities coupled with cost considerations would
limit vaccine production so that only a miniscule
fraction of the planet's 6 billion inhabitants would
have access to it. So, in essence, we are naked against
a new virulent flu virus, naked for at least six months
and perhaps much longer. The new H1N1 vaccine was
created in perhaps record time, but still near the
What are our alternatives, collectively
and individually? We believe there are actions, controls
and behavioral modifications that can be put in place
that can reduce the prevalence of influenza infection:
decision alternatives – from
individuals, to families, to work places and employers,
to governments at all levels – to control and
reduce the prevalence of a virulent flu, once it is
introduced into the population.
Our current focus is non-pharmaceutical interventions
(NPIs) – including social distancing
(frequency of human contacts) and hygienic behavioral
changes (frequent hand-washing, coughing into one’s
sleeve) – that can reduce the transmission rate
and severity of infectious diseases such as pandemic
influenza in the community.
Explore the site, and may it empower you to make healthy
decisions to avoid the flu!