Today the Strib ran an article headlined “World unprepared for next influenza pandemic: health experts.” The article covered what a panel of experts – including the U’s own Dr. Michael Osterholm – had to say about the likelihood of a catastrophic global avian flu pandemic. Dr. Osterholm’s succinct statement: “We’re screwed.”
Unfortunately, the article did a pretty poor job in putting into context why this threat is significant and what is already being done, so allow me to fill in the gaps. This is a topic I’ve been focusing on for business and personal reasons, and I’ve offered a lot more details, perspective and updates here and here. (Each post also features links to more information from highly credible sources).
The article doesn’t describe why this strain has experts so concerned. Here are the salient details:
2. Most assume that medical advances since 1918 have eliminated or greatly reduced the risk, but that’s not the case. This virus kills quickly and hits the healthiest people the hardest. For all of our technological sophistication, vaccine testing and manufacture still relies on 1950s-era tools and methods. There is no proven vaccine yet available and even necessary mechanical tools such as hospital ventilators are in short supply.
3. While the virus has killed most of the people infected by it in the past few years, these people contracted it through direct contact with infected birds or poultry. To become a pandemic the virus has to mutate into a form transmittable human-to-human. There are some indications that this may have already taken place.
4. While the MSM – and therefore, much of the population – is virtually ignorant of the situation, it doesn’t mean that attention isn’t being paid and work isn’t being done to try to identify and contain potential outbreaks as well as develop vaccines. This site provides day by day updates on what’s happening around the world. Getting reliable – and crucial – information from countries such as China, however, is problematic.
The Strib article is correct in that a great deal of work remains to be done. It’s safe to say that no government – including ours – is adequately prepared to prevent or react to a massive outbreak. It is important to raise general awareness and concern about the issue – without inspiring panic – in order to be ready in time. As Dr. Osterholm has also said, this is no longer a matter of “if” but of “when.”
KARE 11 did a more in-depth story on this recently, including more Minnesota angles. You can read the text of the report here.