Daily Kos: Pandemic flu: will the U.S. be ready?

Pandemic flu: will the U.S. be ready?
by Plutonium Page
Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 16:35:26 CDT

...It's Pandemic Flu Awareness Week, a joint effort between the Flu Wiki and the blogosphere to better inform the public about a potential flu pandemic. Specifically:

The purpose of Pandemic Flu Awareness Week, and the Flu Wiki, is to allow the dissemination of information down to the local level so that everyone can use each others' experience, planning and ideas so as not to be left unawares should an actual pandemic occur. Like hurricanes, when a pandemic occurs can not be accurately predicted. Nonetheless, that which can be done in advance should be done, because eventually something will happen. Planning can only help, even if at the local level it can't prevent.

The Flu Wiki is extraordinarily useful, so explore the site as much as you can, whether or not you're going to blog about avian flu. You probably have many questions about influenza, and pandemics in general; you can read about the basic science of both here. That should help you get more out of any news releases; the Flu Wiki has an extensive list of news resources and blogs dealing with avian flu.

As for news regarding preparedness, the Bush administration is in Katrina make-up mode, rushing to finish their Grand Plan to Beat the Pandemic. From the LA Times:

The Department of Health and Human Services is rushing to complete its first comprehensive plan for coping with a possible flu pandemic, and could release the final version as early as this week. It is expected to be accompanied by a request for several billion dollars in new funding, and Congress appears to be willing to cover at least a portion.


Bush's preparedness initiative is being directed by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who said that of all the issues within his purview, including hurricane recovery and bioterrorism, the one that keeps him awake at night is influenza.

"It's a world-changing event when it occurs," Leavitt said in an interview. "It reaches beyond health. It affects economies, cultures, politics and prosperity -- not to mention human life, counted by the millions."

That's great, but why didn't they do this months ago? It's not as if H5N1 avian flu cases just started popping up:

The epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza caused by H5N1, which began in mid-December 2003 in the Republic of Korea and is now being seen in other Asian countries, is therefore of particular public health concern. H5N1 variants demonstrated a capacity to directly infect humans in 1997, and have done so again in Viet Nam in January 2004. The spread of infection in birds increases the opportunities for direct infection of humans. If more humans become infected over time, the likelihood also increases that humans, if concurrently infected with human and avian influenza strains, could serve as the "mixing vessel" for the emergence of a novel subtype with sufficient human genes to be easily transmitted from person to person. Such an event would mark the start of an influenza pandemic.

The LA Times article quotes Bush:

"We need to take it seriously," Bush said after a recent meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. "I talked to Vladimir about avian flu; I talked to other world leaders about the potential outbreak of avian flu. If avian flu were to hit this country, do we have the proper response mechanisms? Does the federal government have the authority necessary to make certain decisions?"

Isn't the Commander-in-Chief supposed to have the answers, not the questions, when it comes to what the federal government does?

At least they are doing something, although the criticisms are plenty, as well as the cautioning comments. I agree with them, especially this one:

"They're struggling to get ahead of the curve," said John Barry, author of "The Great Influenza," a book about the 1918 flu pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States. "They're not there yet."

Barry's book is at the top of Leavitt's recommended reading list. He said he had handed out at least 30 copies, tabbed and underlined to emphasize key sections, and planned to distribute an additional 50 or so to lawmakers and administration officials in coming days. He said the book had been read by Bush, who took it with him to the Texas ranch where the president spent his August vacation.

The 1918 pandemic was the deadliest flu outbreak in recorded history. Most of the fatalities occurred during the first 24 weeks of the contagion. AIDS, by comparison, has killed half that many people worldwide over the last 24 years.

Whether or not Bush has actually read the book is irrelevant; he failed to grasp the Katrina tragedy, and a flu pandemic would make that look small in comparison:

Leavitt said pandemic preparations were underway before Hurricane Katrina struck in late August. But he acknowledged that for him, at least, the sense of urgency was heightened by what he saw first-hand at the 17 evacuee medical shelters he visited.

"You cannot walk into one of those places and see bed after bed after bed of hospital cots," he said, "and not think ... what if we were dealing with this in 50 states?"

This is why Pandemic Flu Awareness week is so important. Bloggers, steal the logo, use it on your blog, and get the word out. Use the Flu Wiki for information and news. Non-bloggers, send links to your family and friends. Get them acquainted with the Flu Wiki.

Daily Kos: Pandemic flu: will the U.S. be ready?


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