Thursday, October 20, 2005

Flu Fears

I happen to watch the season premiere of South Park last night as it took on all the Katrina mess and press (and blogger)irresponsibility. The gist of the episode is that Kyle and Cartman steal a boat and crash it into a beaver dam thereby flooding the town of Beaverton. Everyone decides to play the blame game, ignoring the poor citizens of Beaverton. The news media decides that global warming is to blame and everyone goes nuts running around the town fearing that global warming is upon them. The press widly exaggerates that million have died and only add more fuel to the paranioa.

I bring this up, because that's what I'm feeling when people are talking about the H5N1 virus that is affecting chickens in Asia. This week, it was found in Europe and it might not be too long before we find cases of it affecting chickens in North America.

I want to say off the top, that we should be concerned. This virus could become as bad as the 1918 virus that everyone talks about. So, public health officials world wide should start planning for something.

However, I feel that people are going overboard with this, just as the residents of South Park did last night. Reminiscent of some of the outrageous statistics from Katrina, where New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said 10,000 people could have died, we have people from the World Health Organization saying 150 million could die worldwide and 7 or 8 million could die in the US alone.

Andrew Sullivan, who seems to not be concerned when poor people developing countries are denied HIV retrovirals because of patents, seems prefectly willing to have the government come in a break the patent that Swiss pharmaceutical Roche has with the antiviral drug, Tamiflu. That's consistent, Andrew.

Again, we need to be vigilant, but we also need to put this in some perspective. First only 60 people have caught the virus and died from it. Second, it is still hard to catch even when it has been trasmitted person to person. Third, this might be the virus that becomes the superflu, but it also might die out.

This article in the Washington Post offers a reality check to the Avian Flu. It's a good read and worthwhile.

Andrew Sullivan's reaction reminds me of something. Right now, AIDS a pandemic that is taking place under our noses, is killing scores in Africa. Kids are living without parents who have succumbed to the disease. Yet, I don't see the world sounding the alarm. However, we devote much ink on a virus that might be a threat, but might not be. It might affect us, but maybe be not.

I'm not saying we should ignore the Avian Flu. But I wish we were as worried about the AIDS pandemic in developing countries as we are about this.


At 8:18 PM, Blogger halfback jack said...

I agree with your post Dennis, but (sadly) people like Sullivan leave me with the impression that they believe AIDS is the price that is paid for promiscuity. Or simply being human.

One can avoid AIDS in today's world if they choose to do so. Avian Flu (on the other hand) is airborne, so (presumably) one could catch it through no fault of their own.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger Kirkrrt said...

I need to point out a couple things.
The first is that H5N1 has not yet been transmitted from person to person. The people who have died got it from direct contact with chickens.
The second is that it is quite likely that the number of people who have died from H5N1 is much larger than 60. There are large sections of Asia where people don't go to the hospital when they get sick.
Those things being said, you point is well made and correct. This is a hypothetical pandemic whereas Aids is one that is already here.

Here is a comment from a similar post.

. . . Meanwhile, 1.5 million people die every year from tuberculosis, 1.3 million die from Malaria, and 700 thousand die from the Measles.

So, 60 deaths is a news-worthy pandemic, but 1.5 million deaths doesn't even make it in the newspaper. . . ever?

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Brian said...

". . . Meanwhile, 1.5 million people die every year from tuberculosis, 1.3 million die from Malaria, and 700 thousand die from the Measles.

So, 60 deaths is a news-worthy pandemic, but 1.5 million deaths doesn't even make it in the newspaper. . . ever?"

As they say in business: LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Mitch/Mike said...

LOCATION is the key, folks. In the U.S, we don't have to worry (for the most part) about TB, malaria, or measles because we vaccinate against them. We also probably have the best AIDS education, too so that becomes less of a worry on our shores. H5N1 is new, and therefore more dangerous to Americans, so it gets more news. But news is only part of it. More money goes to all of those other diseases, and that's the important thing. The job of the news media is to tell what's bad, and if we already know it's bad (AIDS/HIV) then they don't need to tell us anymore.

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Kirkrrt said...

Mitch/Mike is right.
What is in the news is what sells advertising.
Ratings determine what the MSM presents and how it is presented.


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