Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tracking the Swine Flu

I have to admit that it really frosts me when people are flippant about the possibility of pandemic flu.  As I see it, either we are very fortunate and the concern raised by a new strain is not borne out and the disease does not become deadly, or hundreds of thousands – even millions die. 

I hear people calling ‘hype’ and scoffing all around us.  Why?  Because people just don’t know the pattern that these pandemics follow.  They don’t always become deadly, but there is no way to know in advance which ones will do so.  There is a pattern that they follow, and very often when the strain emerges it is not deadly.  But after the first season, when the virus mutates again, it can then become a killer.  So, we hear people say “It's all hype”, until the secondary mutations happen and the new strain emerges in more virulent form and kill tens of millions.  And then of course, if we don't have stockpiles and research in hand, we will immediately have people claiming that the government's lack of preparation and stockpiling was itself a conspiracy and/or pure negligence.

For at least the past 400 years, epidemics resembling influenza have been recorded.  In  the twentieth century alone, we have seen  the 1918 “Spanish Flu” epidemic (20 million dead),  the 1957 or 1968 influenza outbreaks 1 million dead each, and there have been others –not to mention major epidemics in 1580, 1781, 1831.

Simply put, we hear people scoff and laugh at what they see as hype, but it is only hype until that cycle where the disease happens to become virulent.  Why do people experience fear? Why do the CDC, WHO, etc., raise awareness, and why does the media join in?  Plainly put, if this new strain happens to be (or become over the summer) one that kills half the people who contract it, then it will be the biggest story, the biggest disaster, the most devastating economic blow...well, short of a nuclear event. The health authorities, the media, the planners cannot know immediately what the current form of the H1N1, or the next mutation will do, and simple common sense says 'take precautions until we have information'.   President Ford has been scoffed at and called an idiot because he stockpiled, immunized and alerted the public about a strain that proved not to be deadly.  Had it been as deadly as the 1918 flu Ford might have been called a hero for preparing as best he could. It is not intellectually honest to evaluate someone's actions only by how a factor they cannot know (is this one deadly?) later plays out.

This site is great for tracking the virus.  I hope this latest new virus does not use the summer in animal reserve hosts to mutate yet again, and perhaps to become a deadly pandemic.  If so, the least sad thing about it will be to look back at all the things written and said now about ‘hype’.  The tables will be turned then, and the consequences terrible.  But whether it is this virus, or another in the future, another deadly event is overdue, and very likely it will be greeted by many chanting ‘hype’.

First Washington State Influenza Death

Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
As always, the photos we use are either my own, or in the public domain. Please let me know if there are any errors and I'll correct them immediately.