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November 04, 2005

The Threat of Avian FluZuky

Remember, just because George W.'s newly announced plan to combat the threat of avian flu is bogus doesn't mean that the threat itself is. Needless to say, the Bush-Cheney administration's sudden interest in healthcare is a blatant attempt to draw public attention away from the Libby indictment, the Iraq war, and the WMD lies. But as I've written before, the craziest, lamest thing about this White House is that it fights fake wars against real enemies. In the case of terrorism, this strategy of war-by-photo-op-and-cronyism has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and a generally destabilized, terrorized world. In the case of avian flu, the results could be even more deadly.

Unfortunately, many progressives are skeptical of the actual threat posed by the H5N1 virus simply because it came out of Bush's mouth. This boy-who-cried-wolf logic is understandable, but wrong. The potential for an influenza pandemic has been understood and discussed in the scientific community since 1997, when the first outbreak was detected in Asia. The Bushies are now attaching themselves to the growing wave of concern in order to shore up their declining political fortunes while lining the pockets of their friends in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

Yet the corporate government's cynical corruption in no way diminishes the threat posed by avian flu, whose human mortality rate is somewhere around 50% for all age groups. The virus is moving around the globe via both migratory birds and modern transportation. So far, the virus has only been known to move from birds to humans; but if the virus mutates into a strain that can jump from human to human, a pandemic of planet-jarring proportions could get underway. As I understand it, the most likely way for that to happen is for the virus to use host pigs (whose genetic make-up is similar to that of humans) as a living laboratory for mixing with other viruses and mutating into human-compatible form. Because of the constant proximity of humans, farm animals, and migratory birds in many parts of the world, this isn't a particularly far-fetched notion.

If a pandemic does indeed get underway, the current world healthcare system will be utterly unprepared to deal with the fallout (even with Bush's "plan" in place). And not just in poor countries: here in the US, we have some 50 million people with no healthcare coverage (such people could serve as carriers, spreading the virus until their symptoms put them in the ER); we haven't invested in either the technology or the manufacturing capacity to rapidly produce large quantities of strain-specific vaccines; and the only (questionable) treatment medication available is patented by Roche, a corporation whose stock price is soaring precisely because of its corner on the flu-medicine market (how twisted is a society's economic system when you're rewarded for witholding medicine?). Moreover, the tendency of politicians to react to any crisis with Draconian military measures (e.g. after-the-fact quarantines and travel bans) could further fuel chaos and breakdowns of public infrastructure. In short, we're in bad shape and it could get ugly.

This doesn't mean it's time to panic. It means it's time to get informed and active. In this age of blogs, wikis, and Googling, getting informed shouldn't be all that difficult; the links in this very post should be enough to get you started. As for getting active, I personally favor practical, common sense measures that mitigate risk without undue burden: washing your hands with soap before you eat; keeping enough food in the pantry to last a few weeks; finding out about any local resources and efforts underway to address the issue; learning how to take care of someone who has been infected; and most of all, pushing for a long-term public health system that puts every human life ahead of corporate greed, because whether the avian flu turns into a pandemic or not, that's what any sane democratic society requires.

Posted by dymaxion at November 4, 2005 10:37 AM

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