A few months ago, I did a post on Avian Flu and how international health officials were keeping a close eye on the disease that at the time, showed no ability to jump from human to human. People who got sick from the disease got it by handling infected domestic fowl. Back then, I pointed out some of the consequences of a pandemic:
This is whatâ€™s giving the folks at CDC nightmares. If Bird Flu were to mutate into a strain that could easily be spread by casual contact among humans, it could wreak havoc on the worldâ€™s population and the economy. Why the economy? Hereâ€™s a look into a possible future where a Bird Flu pandemic is already a reality in the United States. Itâ€™s from a mythical blogger: (Hat Tip: Instapundit)
The United States is battened down before the storm. The government has outlawed all gatherings in public places. In past pandemics that never worked. But epidemiologists say that if we do it early on, it might slow the spread. Modelling also suggests that closing schools and universities is especially important as teenagers and young adults are among the worst hit. We just need to stop them from hanging out elsewhere. Stay at home, is the message blaring from every TV screen.
There’s a possibility that the disease in fact may have mutated to the point where human to human contact is possible. And that could mean by late fall, the world may be in the throes of a truly frightening pandemic which could kill up to 300 million people worldwide.
The culprit for allowing the disease to get out of control could be China. I found this via Winds of Change:
I’ve been following this for some time, basically the World Health Organization is doing everything NOT to raise the alert level from stage 3 to stage 5 or 6, and has tried to explain away clear cases of human-to-human transmission (these cases mean we’re at Stage 5 at least). There are also LOTS of rumors China is covering up an outbreak of Stage 6 human-to-human bird flu. China has been completely uncooperative with the WHO, refuses to let out most medical samples, and has even threatened epidemiologists. Nevertheless, the few published samples available from China (obtained from dead birds in Qinghai) all have genetic traits of strains that infect mammals, including humans. The worry is that these samples come from a major nexus in bird migration routes, meaning that this dangerous virus will soon be dispersed throughout Eurasia (it’s already popping up in Russia).”
The secretive way in which the Chinese government handled the SARS epidemic illustrates the problems totalitarian societies can cause the rest of us. By first denying there was a problem with SARS, then minimizing it, then underreporting the number of victims of the disease, and finally obstructing the activities of the World Health Organization before giving in and asking for help, China kept the epidemic alive. From China, SARS spread to Hong Kong, Viet Nam, and several other countiries in Asia. The disease made it to Toronto where an interesting dichotomy could be observed between the reaction of a totalitarian state to crisis and the efforts of a democratic society to deal with the same threat.
Thanks to a strategy that included public information about symptoms of the disease, close cooperation between government and health officials, and strict and effective quarrantine procedures, the Toronto outbreak of SARS was limited to 345 cases, 44 of which were fatal. It could have been much worse.
And now there are indications that once again, China’s secretive society may trigger another epidemic. This time, however, the results could be catostrophic. It’s estimated that between 1 and 3 million Americans would die in a Bird Flu pandemic. As Joe Katzman points out, the effects of the pandemic would be similar to those of a biological weapons attack:
In many ways, a pandemic isn’t really all that different from a major bioterrorism scenario. Winds recommendations #2-9 from my June 2002 Bioterror Readiness 10-Point Platform for Change still apply, for instance. So, unfortunately, do the comments in Bill Quick’s bioterror readiness post re: why the USA isn’t farther ahead in 2005. There’s a lot of heavy lifting to do, in order to change that picture. We may not have that time.
If we really want to “plan” for a dynamic scenario like this and get a fast fix out there, there’s a simpler way: don’t depend on a huge, elaborate system, but on fast point defense and overlapping measures. Spend about $1 million, and ship copies of SimOutbreak to every key official all around the country. In a scenario like this, fast and informed local reaction will be worth hundreds of millions in backup infrastructure. Include law enforcement and first responders in the distribution – they’ll probably be the first to see the signs. Have cities like my Toronto, hit hard by SARS, share plans and lessons learned.
Mr. Katzman has some good advice that I personally plan on following:
Spend a bit of time following this yourself, on a personal level, and think about what your contingency plans might be re: your family. Spread the word. Write your representatives. Point out that the WHO is soft-pedaling this, and may fail entirely.
In other words, begin building little islands of understanding and capability. Eric says “start planning!” I say “Plan less. Experience and communicate more. Become a pack in motion, not a herd in wait.”
In other words, don’t panic but monitor the situation. I’m not one of those people who plans for the worst but I’m definitely going to make some plans just in case things get out of control.
And I’m going to continue publicizing this. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for pointing me toward the the WoC post.