US Reveals Its Dramatic Strategy To Save Millions Of Lives
The Bush administration believes that most Americans are far too carefree, and ill-informed, about the monumental threat posed by a deadly flu pandemic. And they're right.
In recent weeks, the US government has begun ramping up its official warnings and briefings on how the United States will cope with a widespread, and incredibly deadly, flu pandemic.
But again, the reaction from the mainstream media has been low-boil. The very real possibility of a 'Spanish Flu' like flu pandemic striking sometime in 2007 gets even less attention in newspaper editorials than it does from Letters To The Editor (usually the best gauge of what is really troubling the public at large).
Perhaps this is why the US government is now rolling out a more focused and more alarming 'Get Ready It's Coming' campaign.
As part of that unofficial new campaign, some marketing genius has come up with the, honestly, brilliant idea of categorising pandemic flu threat levels similar to the way hurricanes are threatened to the public.
A Category 1 or 2 hurricane is understood by virtually everyone to mean that you can still walk down the shops, but your hat might get blown away. While a Category Five hurricane announcement makes people go weak at the knees and sprint to the basement, with a child under one arm and the family pet under the other.
So along with the usual warnings about how businesses could grind to a halt, and how hospitals will become overwhelmed with the sick and the dying, if or when a flu pandemic hits (bird flu or something else altogether), we are now going to be hearing a lot more about Category One or Category pandemics.
The category 1 to 5 ratings will be based on the potential, and likely, lethality of the flu virus on the kill across the United States.
So hopefully the words "Category Five Pandemic" will never be heard. Because if you hear an official say "We've got a Category Five Pandemic breaking out," well, it's going to be like something out of Revelation. Armageddon, if you like.
It'll be interesting to see how quickly other countries already up on their bird flu pandemic preventions, like Australia and Indonesia, will adapt this categorisation system.
So here's the 'lethality' rundown.
Category 1 signifies around 90,000 Americans will die. That's only three times the number of people a normal American flu season wipes out.
But a Category 5 signifies that something beyond 1.8 million Americans will die, within months.
As the New York Times article below points out, this Category 5 lethality rating is about equal to the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919.
But here's the nightmare scenario : Spanish Flu in the US, killed about 2% of everyone it infected.
Whereas, the avian influenza virus in humans (or H5N1, or bird flu) is clocking up a death rate of more than 50% of those infected. In Indonesia, at least, that lethality rating can go as high as 70% or 80%.
So the World Health Organisation estimate of 2005 that claimed a worldwide bird flu pandemic in humans could kill 200 million might not be so far off the mark, after all.
Don't ever believe that humans rule this planet. We don't. Viruses do. They always have.
And the king-killer of all viruses is the flu.
Here's how the United States intends to shut down cities and towns to stop Category 5 flu pandemics, from the New York Times (excerpts) :
Cities should close schools for up to three months in the event of a severe flu outbreak, ball games and movies should be canceled and working hours staggered so subways and buses are less crowded, the federal government advised today in issuing new pandemic flu guidelines to states and cities.
Health officials acknowledged that such measures would hugely disrupt public life, but they argued that these measure would buy the time needed to produce vaccines and would save lives because flu viruses attack in waves lasting about two months.
“We have to be prepared for a Category 5 pandemic,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of global migration and quarantine for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in releasing the guidelines. “It’s not easy. The only thing that’s harder is facing the consequences. That will be intolerable.”
The new guidelines also advocate having sick people and all their families even apparently healthy members stay home for 7 to 10 days.
They advise against closing state borders or airports because crucial deliveries, including food, would stop.Any pandemic is expected to move faster than a new vaccine can be produced; current experimental vaccines against H5N1 avian flu are in short supply and based on strains isolated in 2004 or 2005.
Although the government is creating a $4 billion stockpile of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, it is only useful when taken within the first 48 hours, and Tamiflu-resistant flu strains have already been found in Vietnam and Egypt.
“No one’s arguing that by closing all the schools, you’re going to prevent the spread,” Dr. Markel added. “But if you can cut cases by 10 or 20 or 30 percent and it’s your family that’s spared, that’s a big deal.”
School closures can be very controversial, and picking the right moment is hard, because it must be done before cases soar.
Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, a health policy organization, noted that in poor city neighborhoods, 30 to 60 percent of all children get breakfasts or lunches crucial to their nutrition at school.
“What are you going to do about that?” he asked.
Dr. Markel said it might be possible to keep the cafeterias open and transport food to points where parents could pick it up, a move that would also keep cafeteria workers and bus drivers employed.
The guidelines did not suggest using the military to enforce quarantines, as President Bush said he might do when he first mentioned avian flu in 2005.
Dr. Levi said that using the National Guard to set up temporary clinics or move pharmaceutical supplies might make sense.“But they’re not there,” he said. “The people who know how to run field hospitals are in Iraq."
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