This morning I found in my box an exciting discovery. The state of Washington has decided to offer a sober warning to all educators about the threats of Avian Flu. A glossy eight page packet tells everyone about "preparing for the pandemic" and "knowing the risks." We all must be aware that "Flue pandemics DO happen" we did have 1918 after all! The next great flu outbreak may be "just an airplane ride away." In fact, airplanes are one of the reasons that we are MORE at risk now than we were in 1918. Also, there are a lot more people alive now, so clearly our risk is EVEN HIGHER! We must all hide tuna fish and powdered milk under our beds! (Too bad if you’re a vegan I guess) Other things we must do:
---Learn how to treat fever and lung conditions since hospitals will quickly become overwhelmed and possibly even shut down
---Figure out how to keep kids from going insane if the quarantine lasts more than a few weeks
---Figure out how to get fresh water and cook food for six weeks or more
---Realize that the 1918 pandemic lasted 18 MONTHS!!!
---Stock the usual supply of radios, candles, medical kits, and extra clothes
---Keep an extra supply of all medications (how do you get those out of your doctor?)
---Convince your boss to let you just not come in to the office for the duration
---Not leave the house for any reason
---Realize that "hundreds of thousands in your community could get sick AND DIE" (emphasis added)
It does get a bit annoyed when health officials take the alarmist tack on these issues. Some people say that their frantic warnings have been effective in battling diseases in the past. The simplest way, some argue, for health agencies to get more money is to have the public clamoring in fear of the latest thing. Do the health workers really BELIEVE that bird flu is coming? Who knows, but it doesn't seem overly likely.
Slate, among many others, scoffed at the idea of a bird flu pandemic based on the belief that the virus in not likely to mutate enough for human to human transition. As things stand now, a bird can give it to another bird, and a bird can give it to a human, but one human cannot give it to another. Therefore, if you don't go around hugging chickens you should probably be okay. There is always the chance that the virus might mutate enough to make the leap, but odds are very much against.
Then there is also the argument that we are worried about a pandemic which MIGHT kill 10 million if it were REALLY bad. Given the fact that AIDS and other diseases are currently killing that many and more each and every year; it seems kind of odd that we would focus only on the flu. Perhaps it would be more humane and productive to send our tuna fish and powdered milk to Africa. In reality, however, this is not simply about the number of possible deaths. In truth we are worried about the possibility of AMERICAN deaths. NIMBY, it seems, is alive and well when it comes to American attitudes about health.
All in all, it is a good thing to be prepared for all sorts of disasters. We should all have fresh water, canned food (please not tuna?), and other essentials stored away against the worst. However, we can do this without going into panic mode. Threats of "The Big One" only work for so long before people start to get jaded. One day the government may actually have a real wolf on its hands, and it will need people to take notice.