Is this the big one?
August 30, 2002 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Is this the big one? With some 18,000 sick and over 700 people having died of the flu in a country the size of France over the past couple of months, I find it odd that the media seems obsesessed with the US / Iraq thing and missing children. The 1918 flu epidemic killed some 675,00 Americans alone, with a global tally in excess of 20 MILLION killed. Some of the photos taken back then are pretty grim. It seems the power of influenza is that it (ahhem) mutates and thats why it could once again be a big killer. Cynical as it might sound, as a race maybe we need something like this to teach us that we've got a lot more in common with each other than skin colour and religion might otherwise lead us to believe. ObDisclaimer: I'm unemployed right now, have maybe six months of canned goods in the flat; if this hits London, I ain't opening my door to nobody.
posted by Mutant (22 comments total)
When all else fails , ie, writing about it, try a flu shot before the season begins...gosh: it works and prevents flu. Compare deaths from flu now with what used to be (the link provided)...the elderly most at risk and should get their shot. They do not cost much and for many, it can be had free.
posted by Postroad at 6:32 AM on August 30, 2002

...except that, as I understand it, flu shots are based on last year's flu and would thus be completely ineffective if the virus has mutated.
posted by Kikkoman at 6:34 AM on August 30, 2002

Many of the victims are children suffering from a poor diet on the island off southeast Africa, one of the world's poorest countries.

While the numbers are ghastly, they hardly warrant alarmism for populations in developed nations.

Thousands of children die of simple diarrhea in places where there is little sanitation and no medical care to speak of. The death toll from this flu is a symptom of a much larger problem.
posted by frykitty at 6:36 AM on August 30, 2002

wait, you have six months of canned goods in your apartment?
posted by elsar at 6:42 AM on August 30, 2002

Madagascar is emerging from a months-long political crisis that saw most of its transport infrastructure destroyed and took many of its already desperately poor people to the brink of starvation. (More information on my site.) Other reports seem to indicate that the virus itself is not necessarily the main problem: it's the lack of access to basic health care and the precarious health that many Malagasy poor have been in anyway.

The lesson from the flu epidemic in Madagascar shouldn't be to fear that we'll be next. It should be to do more to help countries that are outside the usual Western sphere of concern.
posted by rory at 6:47 AM on August 30, 2002

The article states that 95 percent of the victims are poor peasants with no access to modern medical care. This would not be an epidemic in the U.S. or England. If you want something to be paranoid about in the first world, I'd spend more time worrying about the antibiotic-resistant bacteria we're cultivating at our hospitals.
posted by rcade at 6:49 AM on August 30, 2002

Yeh, I'm a cheap bastard and when things are on sale I buy them and as much of them as I can get.

/ME goes to kitchen

Lots of 2kg bags of pasta (Economy), a little over two cases of canned baked beans (Economy), coffee (not Economy, but usually 2.74 GBP but was on sale for 1.74 GBP and I bought 28 packs - each pack lasts me roughly three weeks) and would have bought more but the manager at Sainsburys wouldn't let me, Soup (all tomato, and you know what brand), and loads of canned fish (I won't cheap out on that though).

I usually go to market for salad fixins once a week or so, but otherwise the diet is pretty consistent (and cheap!).

Even when I was working I was rather mean as folks at the office used to say. I'm unemployed now, and I've tightened up a great deal. So looking closer, I'm definitely over three months in terms of dry goods, and could bump up quickly if I had to.
posted by Mutant at 6:53 AM on August 30, 2002

This is a nasty virus no matter where it is. With flu season starting soon lets hope the WHO can contain and stop it dead.
posted by stbalbach at 6:54 AM on August 30, 2002

While the flu shot is indeed based on last year's strain, it will provide some protection. I get mine every year and haven't had the full-fledged flu since. YMMV.
posted by tommasz at 6:55 AM on August 30, 2002

If this hits London, I ain't opening my door to nobody

Wow, do you think the flu will wipe out Europe? Maybe America, too!

This seems like unnecessary alarmism and very narrow-minded (especially "the media seems obsesessed with the US / Iraq thing"). Yes, this certainly is a major health problem for Madagascar, but it is rooted in the much larger problem of health care in the third world. If the poster meant that this epidemic should wake up the developed world to the importance of developting a third-world health care infrastructure, he's right. But "as a race we need it"?

Furthermore, I find it neither surprising nor irresponsible that the media is reporting on the start of a major war that will likely kill far more than 700 people (though, like influenza, probably very few Americans).
posted by LordMcD at 7:04 AM on August 30, 2002

Kikkoman: actually they do quite a bit of research and thinking about which strains might be dominant in a given year. Yes, they base the vaccine on samples received; and it takes months to grow enough vaccine for the population that usually gets the shots in the US, which is in the ballpark of 100 million doses. Even though the vaccines are based on specific strains, against which they'll be most effective, there are "type A" and "type B" classes and a vaccinated person, who is otherwise healthy, will generally have a faster immunoresponse to a dissimilar strain within the same type. Generally the CDC and WHO keep a remarkably close watch on influenza, because it is this sampling and prediction that allows our annually changing vaccination programs to be successful.

Madagascar has also just been through a civil war this spring and summer, after an election dispute in which the president refused to relinquish his office and the West recognized his rival.

Anyway, according to other sources, WHO believes the outbreak has largely been contained -- and surprise, is very similar to a strain named for Panama -- and one that has already run its course worldwide, being a main component of the 2001-02 outbreak.
posted by dhartung at 7:07 AM on August 30, 2002

the flu is serious business in hong kong.

anytime health officials here detect strains of H5N1 or variants at any poultry farm, they immediately quarantine the place, kill all the livestock and notify the press.

wet markets are notified as well so as to remove any of the birds that may have come from the affected farm, and so that they may thoroughly clean the place. transport vehicles are similarly disinfected.

this virus killed 6 people in 1997. what health officials are worried about, and rightly so, is not only mutation that will spread easily from bird to human, but mutation that will allow the virus to transfer easily from human to human.

think airborne.

it is inevitable that a strain is going to develop (eventually) that will cause a global pandemic like the spanish flu in 1918. hopefully that strain will not originate from hong kong.
posted by bwg at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2002

Not to be cruel, bwg, but if a major population center is going to be stricken by an airborne flu, wouldn't an island be better than, say, Mexico City?
posted by rcade at 7:37 AM on August 30, 2002

With flu season starting soon lets hope the WHO can contain and stop it dead.

Especially now that John Entwistle is gone. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will really have their work cut out for them on this one.
posted by Fourmyle at 7:41 AM on August 30, 2002


"Who Huddle!"

It's the revenge of the lemurs, methinks.
posted by hackly_fracture at 7:51 AM on August 30, 2002

I'm curious- how many of you (who are otherwise fairly healthy) get flu shots? I stopped taking them after realizing that I would still get the flu no matter what. I'm also of the belief (rational or not) that a little sickness is ultimately good for the body- keeps your immune system on its toes. I despise the kudzu-like invasion of anti-bacterial soap for the same reason.
posted by mkultra at 7:57 AM on August 30, 2002

Rcade: Doesn't really matter whether it starts at Hong Kong or Mexico City. There's so much commerce going in and out of Hong Kong, epidemiologically, it doesn't matter that the city's on an island. And since HK is a more important city to the world economy than Mexico City is, if it gets hit, the spread will probably be worse if anything.
posted by ptermit at 8:00 AM on August 30, 2002

Forget mutation. Influenza is one of the few viruses that undergo something akin to sexual reproduction. (Reassortment of genetic elements).
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:10 AM on August 30, 2002

To the best of my knowledge, I've never had the flu, and I've never taken a flu shot. Because I've written this, I'm surely going to die of it this year.
posted by Doug at 11:02 AM on August 30, 2002

do you think the flu will wipe out Europe? Maybe America, too!

No, but I do know that its spread by human contact. I'm a country boy, and if a 1918 style epidemic ever came I'd rather be no place else but back home with a shotgun, making sure as the cities clear out nobody comes onto our land.

But since I'm in London (and they prolly wouldn't let me have a gun), I'll just keep the door shut thank you very much. Emerge into the sunlight a few months later, and spend the rest of my days living here in Londons East End, Omega Man Style.

Furthermore, I find it neither surprising nor irresponsible that the media is reporting on the start of a major war that will likely kill far more than 700 people...

Just more of the Western-centric coverage of the US and European so-called global media. This things been going on for a couple of months now, and I've never heard of it before. I read Financial Times pretty much every day, manage to get through a copy of The Economist every week, and have BBC News 24 playing almost all the time on TV. Never heard anything about it until I read about it on Newsmax this AM.

Bet yer ass if (heaven forbid!) 700 Frenchmen had died and some 18,000 were sick from the flu we'd be hearing about it. Big time. Probably wouldn't be called The Kidnap Summer any more. No, instead we'd be subjected to an endless stream of "experts" fishing about for a Bin Laden / Al Queada connection.
posted by Mutant at 11:49 AM on August 30, 2002

My understanding was that, for whatever reason, flu mutations tend to move East to West, starting among chickens in Asia and through other carriers. So they don't actually look at last year's strains so much as base their production on what's moving at the time -- that time being several months ahead of flu season in the U.S. Also:

I stopped taking them after realizing that I would still get the flu no matter what. I'm also of the belief (rational or not) that a little sickness is ultimately good for the body- keeps your immune system on its toes.

Funny, that's exactly the logic behind flu shots!
posted by oddovid at 12:46 PM on August 30, 2002

rcade, ptermit is correct.

there's no way in hell you could confine the flu in hong kong if it ever got out. besides, the poultry farms are all in the new territories anyway, which is connected to the chinese mainland.

fortunately health officials are really paranoid about the avian strains and are trying to stay on top of them.
posted by bwg at 6:48 PM on August 30, 2002

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