avian flu musings

Last week there was a news flurry about the steps Bush is taking to “protect” us from (or more realistically mitigate the effects of) an outbreak of H5N1, which is considered a distinct possibility within the next few years. There’s a write up here and you can find the text of his comments here.

If y’all remember, I read a book earlier this year, The Great Influenza. One of the things that impressed me about it was how it detailed how the army optimized the spread of the virus back in 1918. That’s right. Seems that the army collected together a vast pool of men from all corners of the country, exposed them to each other, and then sent them each back home on furloughs.

You can’t get a better distribution strategy than that.

There’s also speculation that it was military personnel picking up cases abroad and bringing it back to the US in the first place. The “ground zero” of infections in the USA centers around a town in Kansas (if I remember correctly; it was some small town in the middle of the midwest) that had a high number of people serving in the military.

So I think a response to an outbreak here by deploying the military to enforce a quarantine is simply ridiculous.

You want other things. Respiratory masks, rubber/latex gloves, a habit of washing hands. Antibiotics to treat secondary infections (which are often the real killers after the virus itself). These may actually do more to slow down the progress of the virus than anything else. Tamiflu sounds promising, but I note several things: it’s not actually a vaccine, it’s a supportive therapy, which means you get it after you’re infected. And given that we’ve got a stockpile sufficient to treat about, oh, 2% of our population really means it’s not something we can depend on. Throw in the factor that these things mutate (flu viruses are characterized by a high mutation rate) to the point where a human-to-human strain of H5N1 could well blow right past tamiflu, and you’ve got some serious thinking about this.

What’s interesting is that I noted in our OC Register rag that some forcasts also talk about food and water shortages if there’s enough disruption to supply lines. Seems that my recent discussions of preparing for disaster encompass more than I might have thought.

Good information: Flu Wiki. Go forth and read…

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