Monday, September 26, 2005


Amidst all of the focus on the catastrophes Katrina and Rita, and the war in Iraq, I caught Wide Angle the other night. The show addressed the Avian Flu virus (or H5N1) that has been so problematic in Asian over the past few years. The show was alarming, to say the least.

Scientists fear that this flu strain could, when it becomes readily transmittable via human to human contact, become a pandemic to rival the Spanish Flu back in the early 1900s. Pandemic is a bad word. Current experts believe that the Spanish Flu may have killed as much as 5% of the world population.

Let me repeat that. 5% of the world population. 100 million people.

Doesn't it seem like we should be hearing more about this? The BBC had an article in late August that decried the lack of preparedness for this possibility. The World Health Organization says
"the world is now in the gravest possible danger of a pandemic".

Initially, the flu was only transmittable from bird to bird. Then, birds began transmitting it to humans. Now, there is at least one case that seems highly probably to be a human to human transmission. Obviously, once human to human transmission occurs regularly, the flu will spread much more quickly.

But it isn't merely the rapidity of spread that's the issue. This flu is deadly. 45 people died from it last year. But more frightening is the mortality rate of those infected: 36%. There's a more complicated issue around the mortality rate. It used to be higher but is lower now, which apparently may indicate that the virus is becoming "less deadly but easier to spread", according to meaty article in Foreign Affairs. Lovely.

And did I mention that the vaccine discussion is laughable, as few companies want to work on flu vaccines, it is difficult to cultivate this particular vaccine, most of the countries where the flu will rage initially will have no access to any vaccine due to cost, and by the time a vaccine could be made up that would attack a particular strain, millions would be infected already?

Shouldn't we be doing something about this? Well, now. We are. Or, at least the Republicans are trying to. As part of Operation Offset, their sick plan to provide funding for Katrina efforts while saving rich peoples' tax cuts, the Center for Disease Control would receive a whopping $1.8 billion annual cut in funding. That's timely, isn't it?

It's good to know that we can always count on the Republican party to be looking ahead and looking out for us. Do we have to wait for a flu disaster of the proportions of Katrina for our current administration to learn on so that the next disaster will be handled more effectively, ala Rita?

Until tomorrow,


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