Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pandemic imminent

The World Health Organization (WHO) this morning raised the alert level for the swine flu (H1N1 virus) outbreak to phase 5, its second-highest level. In a phrase: "Pandemic imminent."

The outbreak appears to have originated in or near Mexico City, where there have been at least 152 deaths thus far. It is worth noting that the deaths are reported to have been nominally-healthy individuals between the ages of 25 and 50. The working theory is that when the virus infects a body, the infected person's immune system reacts strongly. So strongly that it attacks and destroys healthy lung tissue as it fights off the virus. Subsequent infection then claims the victim. This theory offers an explanation as to why those people that would seem to be least at risk (those between the ages of 25 and 50, with robust immune systems) seem to be most adversely affected.

The virus is spreading with all the rapidity one would expect in this linked-up global civilization. As of this writing, there are 92 confirmed cases in eleven states in the US. That number will undoubtedly be obsolete by the time I finish writing this post. There are also reports of cases in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and across Europe and Asia.

The spread puts to rest any quaint notions promoted by health officials of the possibility of containment. They used to throw that term around back in the day, just a few years ago, when bird flu was the scare. It seemed like a pipe dream then, and it seems even more so now. The reality is that, in today's world of supersonic jet travel and a world population that is constantly in motion, there is no such thing as containment.

We're all in this together.

So, before things get really crazy (if they do get crazy... we'll have to wait and see), before this thing causes people to start panicking or finding someone to blame or looting grocery stores, I want to take a moment and recall the short life of a 2 year-old boy from Mexico who last week went with his family to Brownsville, Texas to visit relatives.

The name of this little boy is not public knowledge. But we can assume that he had people around him who loved him. We can assume that he was, like most two-year-olds, beautiful and innocent and mostly kind. We can assume that he had the potential to greatness that is inherent in all human beings. And we can assume that when he came down with flu symptoms, his family was worried sick. When he didn't respond to treatments, they flew him to Houston.

And there he died. An unnamed 2-year-old Mexican boy. The first swine flu fatality in the United States.


Dan Binmore said...

I'll bet you in three months that this will largely be forgotten. The flu responds to flu treatment. If you get flu symptoms go to a hospital and they will make you better. Meanwhile malaria kills nearly a million people a year in Africa, 2000 children a day and is preventable with western medicine. If you want to help sick people in a concrete and effective way go here,

Eclectic Dilettante said...

So far this year, 19,000 people have died in the US from the "regular" flu. Strange how no one fears that.

Could Swine flu be a ploy to get the little guy to go long health care? Who knows. One thing is certain, the manufacturer of all those masks will be posting record profits.

As long as the little people are afraid of catching the latest global disease, protests will be at a minimum.

NWJR said...

According to the CDC:

"Every year in the United States, on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu; more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and; about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications."Where are the hysterical blog posts warning of doom and gloom? Where are the stories about any one of those 36,000 people? Why are people so quick to look for and assume the worst?

Yes, one day there will be a global pandemic. History shows us we are not immune (no pun intended) to such things. But this most recent scare is just that. A scare. I find it amazing that at a point when 70 people in the U.S. were affected, President Obama proposed spending 1.5 BILLION dollars to fight it.

Where is the $1.5 Billion for research into Autism, Parkinson's, MS, etc.? Instead, we're throwing money at a flu virus! We're shutting down schools and wiping desks with Clorox to fight an airborne virus! It's ridiculous.

Our priorities are fucked up, and we're ready and willing to believe the worst because we've become angry and cynical. Time for everyone to step back and take a breath. Enjoy life, live a good and moral existence, and the rest will take care of itself. Simple as that.