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A Post About the H5N1 Bird Flu Virus

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There has been buzz about this potential flu pandemic all over the place lately. Here is one article from ABC News from the other day:

The World Health Organization said today that between 2 million and 7.4 million people could die from a global flu pandemic. WHO spokesman Dick Thompson told reporters in Geneva that countries have been warned to be ready to deal with up to 7.4 million deaths, but conceded there was no way to determine the deadliness of the avian flu “until the pandemic begins.”

The estimate was a stark contrast to the range given Thursday by Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for global readiness against an outbreak. He said that the world response to warnings would determine whether an avian flu virus ends up killing 5 million or as many as 150 million. — Expert Predicts ‘Perfect Setup’ for Avian Flu Pandemic

Here is a “young physician’s attempt to say something pithy” in an interesting blog post about what such an outbreak may be like. From The Examining Room of Dr. Charles: The Ghost of Influenza Season Future (Hat tip: Majikthise.) And while I have my hat off to Lindsay, here is a post from her where she expresses concern about the “strategically dubious” situation of the CDC getting cozy with vaccine manufacturers.

The Centers for Disease Control is hoarding critical data about the genetics of influenza viruses. Normally, this data would be made available to the scientific community as a matter of course. Now, as we face the prospect of a global influenza pandemic, the CDC refuses to share this data. — CDC hoarding flu data

What else is the federal government doing about a potential pandemic? The President thought aloud about it at press conference today:

“If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country? And how do you, then, enforce a quarantine?” Bush asked at a news conference.

“It’s one thing to shut down airplanes. It’s another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu. And who best to be able to effect a quarantine?” Bush added.

“One option is the use of a military that’s able to plan and move. So that’s why I put it on the table. I think it’s an important debate for Congress to have.”

It is worrisome to me that the military option seems to become more and more a domestic solution. But at least he was talking about the National Guard, so it doesn’t step on the toes of local and state authorities taking care of their own, right?

Well, no.

He noted that some governors may object to the federal government commandeering the National Guard, which is under state command in most circumstances.

“But Congress needs to take a look at circumstances that may need to vest the capacity of the president to move beyond that debate. And one such catastrophe or one such challenge could be an avian flu outbreak,” Bush said.

Reuters: Bush proposes using military in bird flu pandemic

Yeah, those power-hungry governors may object to the federal government commandeering the National Guard. But this proposal may very well be the logical solution following from Michael Brown’s assessment that the slow response to Katrina was the failure of “dysfunctional” state and local officials; and the relief we felt when General Honore rolled into town and the desperation lifted. Who in their right mind would throw in with the power-hungry incompetents?

Sarcasm aside, I do agree with the President that what to do about an outbreak is “an important debate” for the nation to have. We should also look at what actually went wrong, and right, in the Katrina response to inform our plans to deal with future catastrophes like flu pandemics.

One last link is Flu Wiki; which seems to have a wealth of information about this. Some of which is very unsettling.

In the meantime, remember to “…cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick.” And, maybe look at some pictures from World Beard and Moustaches championships to take your mind off of it for awhile.