Regular TNH contributor and Daily Kos irregular Plutonium Page has summarized one of a series of stories in Nature fictionalizing the flu pandemic of the winter of 2006. Interestingly, the well-respected magazine chose the form of a 'blog' to get the word out. Remember, THIS IS FICTION.
President George Bush has just addressed the press in the East Room of the White House. Here's the transcript: "At this hour, the World Health Organization has declared a full-scale pandemic influenza alert, with person-to-person spread lasting more than two weeks in Cambodia and Vietnam. During previous influenza pandemics in the United States, large numbers of people were ill, sought medical care, were hospitalized and died. On my orders, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services have today implemented the nation's draft Pandemic Influenza Response and Preparedness Plan. It will serve as our road map, on how we as a nation, and as a member of the global health community, respond to the pandemic. We are ready. Thank you, and may God bless America."
Ready, my ass! I've reported on avian flu for almost a decade. The first thing I did on hearing Bush's address was to get on my cellphone to my husband, Jonathan. I told him to pack some bags and get ready to take the kids to my mother's house in Florida. "Remember all that stuff I told you about how a bird flu pandemic might hit the United States? Well, I think it's about to happen."
A review of the technique is here from the blog WorldChanging:
In the meantime, the following is not fiction (as we traditionally define it, anyway):
What Is Really Going On In China?
We don't yet know. But read this collection of links. Here is the most worrying excerpt:
Reports coming out of Qinghai suggest H5N1 infections in humans and birds are out of control, with birds distributing H5N1 to the north and west, while people are being cremated and told to keep quiet.
Reports from Chinese language papers detail over 200 suspected infections in over two dozen locations in Qinghai Province. In the most affected 18 regions, there are 121 deaths, generating a case fatality rate above 60%.
Even if only a small fraction of the deaths are H5N1 linked, the cases would move the bird flu pandemic stage from 5 to the final stage 6, representing sustained human-to-human transmission of H5N1.
The high case fatality rate suggests the H5N1 in Qinghai has achieved efficient human transmission while retaining a high case fatality rate. If confirmed, these data would have major pandemic preparedness implications. These cases began almost a month ago and are now spreading via people who have previously entered the high risk area.
In one sense, a less virulent death rate, coupled with increased infectivity would be the worst combination. China also claims to be developing a vaccine, which, along with everything else we read, is impossible to objectively verify.
For more Q&A on bird flu see the New Yorker. One example:
When SARS emerged, nobody knew what caused it or how deadly it would be. Officials monitoring the first reports assumed it was a flu pandemic--and they were actually relieved to find out that it was not. But the fear is not hard to understand: some people were afraid that sars would be as deadly as H.I.V. was when it first began to spread, in the nineteen-eighties, but also as easy to contract as the flu. It turned out to be a new virus--a distant cousin to the common-cold virus--and it is neither very easy to get nor, usually, deadly. But new diseases with no known causes or cures are always frightening.
Unfortunately, there'll be more to come on this. The Nature issue is very thorough, and worth an entire read.
WHO is trying to do the right thing. See (or rather, listen to) All Things Considered:
And, finally, some more: U.S. Criticized Over Bird Flu Plans.
What are individuals expected to do about bird flu? not much, other than consider calling your local health department or hospital and ask them if they are considering plans for a potential pandemic next fall. If the feds won't do it, your local health department might have to consider such things as quarantine plans, school closures, stockpiling of medicines (like tamiflu) for health care workers, identification of emergency shelters (like high schools) to be converted to clinics, etc. No need to panic, but a reminder or two to the Mayor or Selectmen (or whatever your local government provides) may help get the ball rolling. it may help, even if this turns out to be just an ordinary flu year.