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View Diary: Flu Stories: UK Deals With H5N1 Outbreak; US Plans For Graded Response (115 comments)

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  •  The Department of Homeland Health Threats (0+ / 0-)

    What bothers me about the Pandemic Severity Index in particular is the strong resemblance to our counter-terrorism alert levels.  What bothers me about the hyping of the avian flu threat in general, is that it both draws from, and reinforces in its turn, the validity of the disastrous model of this administration's hyping of the terrorism threat.  

    The real world doesn't work like that TV show "24".  In the real world, there isn't some near-omniscient, and, of course, super-secret, govt agency that somehow knows that character X knows where in Manhattan al Qaeda has hidden the suitcase nuke, nor are there near-omniscient virologists who understand well enough how high case-fatality pandemics work to know, before we are actually in the middle of the next such pandemic, what extreme preventive measures which particular infectious agent should get before it's too late for them to work.  We know illness rates and case-fatality rates by observation, which can't happen and be collated until the pandemic has passed its peak.  The vague, unstated, notion that these empirical matters are somehow knowable from DNA or something, is magical thinking akin to that which has the neocons convinced that they know which countries are "evil" and need to be invaded now as a preventive measure.  No, the danger here is not that the "pre-emption" of avian flu will do the horrendous damage that this approach has wreaked in our foreign policy.  My concern is that we validate this "24" approach to reality in general, when we try to ape the failed approach of this administration to the hyped threat of terrorism, by hyping the threat of flu into something that would sell soap if it was the subject of a "24" episode.

    Gathering facts is not sexy or dramatic, and can't compete for public attention with groundless theorizing, which is free to latch onto dramatic scenarios.  The money being spent on dramatic avian flu war-games by the CDC, pursuing a model of responding to pandemics that is way too ambitious relative to our knowledge of the underlying facts, would be much better spent on researching those underlying facts.  We tend to only get interested in animal diseases after they start to affect humans, where they tend to high case-fatality because the virus hasn't adapted well enough to an unfamiliar host to avoid killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.  But if we had as good an overview of the total picture of infectious disease in animals as we do of those that affect humans, we would have a much better understanding of the relatively rare crossover events in which the animal disease starts spreading to and among humans.  We are worried about avian flu crossing over to humans, and carrying with it the high illness rate we often see with human flu, because its rare cases in humans have an apparently high case-fatality ratio.  But we would probably have a much better idea of how likely or unlikely such crossover would be, if we had taken advantage of the undoubtedly far more numerous cases of low-to-no fatality crossover events from birds to humans, but which we haven't studied, because we are only interested in the sex and violence of "The Coming Plague", or "The Hot Zone", or, in general, the breathlessly awaited next high case-fatality pandemic.  You can't work with an n of 1.  It is hard to imagine anything less interesting to the general public than the surveillance and cataloguing of diarrheal illnesses in chickens, but it is upon such an empirical  foundation that we must look to start down the long road of one day being able to catch at least some high fatality pandemics before they have already devastated us.  

    The way up and the way down are one and the same.

    by gtomkins on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 10:30:08 AM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  since I don't watch 24 I don't understand (0+ / 0-)

      half of what you said. But the basic research is ongoing, in terms of bird surveillance. Scientists over the last few years have catalogued over hundreds of different strains of h5N1, and the basic research into simple things like how flu is spread is ongoing as well. You'd think it had been done before, but better late than never.

      This isn't just about colored charts. I agree the basics are key.

      Thanks for posting.

      "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx

      by Greg Dworkin on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 07:00:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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