"Preparing for the next pandemic."
May 5, 2005 7:38 AM   Subscribe

1.7 million deaths in the U.S. and 180-360 million dead globally. That's the estimate of the impact of the next influenza pandemic from Michael Osterholm, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine. He warns that almost every public health response to the inevitable emergence of pandemic influenza A strain is unplanned or inadequate: A vaccine would take minimum six months (and millions of fertilized chicken eggs); there are no plans to setup and staff the temporary isolation wards or replace dead health-care workers; nor are there detailed plans for handling the number of dead bodies. Given the deeply interconnected nature of the global economy a pandemic would be impossible to stop and wreak havoc in every nation. "Frankly the crisis could for all we know have started last night in some village in Southeast Asia," said Dr. Paul Gully, Canada's deputy chief public health officer. "We don't have any time to waste and even if we did have some time, the kinds of things we need to do will take years. Right now, the best we can do is try to survive it. We need a Manhattan Project yesterday."
posted by docgonzo (75 comments total)
This is a followup to previous threads on pandemic influenza: 39676 and 37271.
posted by docgonzo at 7:39 AM on May 5, 2005

I often wonder how many different things there are out there that could just kill a ton of us off. Is it worth worrying about all of these things all of the time. Every year you hear the same bit about the flu, however it seems to me that if you are china or some other developing nation then a massive pandemic is a god send. Sure lots of people die, but your nation is no longer saddled with a huge underproducing rural populace. Call me evil i suppose.
posted by sourbrew at 7:47 AM on May 5, 2005

I'm still waiting for ebola. That was such a cocktease.
posted by mkultra at 7:51 AM on May 5, 2005

You say "180-360 million dead globally" like it's a bad thing. ;-P
posted by mischief at 7:54 AM on May 5, 2005

So: would people prefer to label such inevitable posts We'reAllGonnaDieFilter or PandemicFilter?

Not saying it's impossible, mind you. Just that it seems to crop up often.
posted by graymouser at 8:09 AM on May 5, 2005

So...Yahtzee anyone?
posted by fungible at 8:13 AM on May 5, 2005

From the second link:

"A pandemic vaccine can't really be developed beforehand because scientists don't know exactly what virus it will be until it hits"

What's the difference between this pandemic concern and concerns over a meteor striking the earth? Do we really have the resources to fully prepare for everything that MIGHT happen? With all these chicken littles running around, which one is gonna get it right?
posted by boymilo at 8:15 AM on May 5, 2005

Maybe my maths is rusty. Between 2.5 and 5% fatality rate world wide?

Bring it on. We need to clear out some people and I like those odds! Wipe out the old, the young, the poor and the infirm. I might actually make it to the front of an NHS waiting list.

Yeah, it's easy to joke, but I'd seriously welcome a decent pandemic - something to kill a good few million people without destroying any one specific population group and without recking the world for those of us who survive.
posted by twine42 at 8:22 AM on May 5, 2005

What's the difference between this pandemic concern and concerns over a meteor striking the earth?

Influenza pandemics have happened 30 times in the last 300 years and killed nearly one billion people.
posted by docgonzo at 8:32 AM on May 5, 2005

twine. If you live in Brooklyn maybe you ought to come over and hang with my daughter for a while. She's two. Then you can look me in the eye and tell me that you're ok with her dying because we as a race spend more time and energy killing each other and playing stupid political games than trying to take care of each other and save lives.
posted by n9 at 8:35 AM on May 5, 2005

twine42 - do you have kids? Are you willing to put them on the line too for that 5% russian roulette?

I'm not - call me a mammal if you will, but I am driven to protect my offspring.
posted by Dag Maggot at 8:37 AM on May 5, 2005

I'm not one of these people who runs around saying that the sky is falling every time some bad headline hits, but if you think that this one (H5N1) has a low likelihood of happening, then you aren't really paying attention.

People basically take the "yawn" approach for any number of reasons - one of which may be a feeling of helplessness (like, what can I do about it, dude!), living in a time when science/medicine is expected to be able to deal with anything handed to it, or simply believing that since it hasn't happened in their lifetimes (yet) that it can't happen in their lifetimes.

Don't take it personally.
posted by spock at 8:52 AM on May 5, 2005

Is it not possible to simultaniously look at the small and large scale situations?

No, I don't have any kids. But I'd risk me. And my wife and my grandparents. We all die. Yeah, I'd be heartbroken but, unfortunately, that's life. What's good for me isn't always good for the planet or for my fellow human beings. Getting rid of a few million mouths would do us all a world of good.

Hell, if you believe what they say about the bubonic plague and HIV resistance, it could even being doing the rest of us a favour.
posted by twine42 at 8:56 AM on May 5, 2005

Im with twine, sure its lame that people would die, but ultimately that sort of stuff is good for the planet. We could certainly use the effect of it, but then again this is the same sort of mentality that sees aids as a positive thing in africa..... Slippery slope indeed.
posted by sourbrew at 8:59 AM on May 5, 2005

twine, you must have missed the part in the article about the global economy tanking in the event of a pandemic. You might not miss several hundred million of your fellow humans, but I bet you'd miss your paycheque and fresh fruit at the supermarket.
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 9:06 AM on May 5, 2005

Twine42 - who says you'll survive?

Seriously, and on balance, your comment has to be one of the stupid I've ever seen on MetaFilter. And that's saying something.
posted by ninthart at 9:08 AM on May 5, 2005

We all die. Yeah, I'd be heartbroken but, unfortunately, that's life.

No. That's death. Life is the opposite of that. All of you who see death as something good for your fellow human beings or the planet, please feel free to depart as soon as possible. You just aren't free to take anybody with you.

This is a nice little synopsis of where we are in the process. It may be a year or two (maybe longer) before it reaches this stage:
posted by spock at 9:08 AM on May 5, 2005

"Most" Stupid.

Don't. Post. While. Angry.
posted by ninthart at 9:10 AM on May 5, 2005

What's up with the sanitary conditions in SE Asia? Why would you want to eat martens and badgers or have ducks and chickens and pigs indoors? Rather than the Manhattan influenza project how about printing up some information brochures about basic sanitation and dropping them over the Guandong Province. They claim they are, but I doubt it.
posted by Panfilo at 9:13 AM on May 5, 2005

Not to impugn the motives or integrity of the scientists quoted in the original post, nor of those warning us we need to prepare for a meteor strike, but all these warnings are pleas for funding from individuals with a personal stake in such funding decisions. I'm not saying they're wrong in their statistical analyses of disaster likelihood or impact, but...
posted by twsf at 9:19 AM on May 5, 2005

Not to impugn the motives or integrity of the scientists quoted in the original post

Actually, that's just what you're doing.
posted by docgonzo at 9:25 AM on May 5, 2005

Yes, but what happens after chaos clears up. You have a global society with proper hygiene reinforced and a collapse of the capitalistic market that is currently all pervasive. It would provide new opportunities for communities to work together in different ways.

For instance low resource technologies would receive a lot of innovation do to failures in the infrastructure that allows us to be as inefficient as we are. Beyond that it would go a long way towards reducing global wars and hate. Something like that would tie us all together in a way the tsunami should have but didn't.

Again supporting the outright death of millions is not a positive thing, but i think there certainly would be a light at the end of the tunnel.

on preview: what twsf said
posted by sourbrew at 9:26 AM on May 5, 2005

docgonzo - A bit testy over criticism of your post?
posted by sourbrew at 9:27 AM on May 5, 2005

No... I'm saying that all of us have personal, subconscious biases based on our own needs and experiences to which others might want to pay a tiny bit of attention in certain situations.
posted by twsf at 9:27 AM on May 5, 2005

"Yes, but what happens after chaos clears up."

"In order to save the village, it was necessary to destroy it." Except this time, the village is the entire world? What is this, the ending of Atlas Shrugged?
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 9:31 AM on May 5, 2005

The next influenza pandemic will shut down the global economy within days

Bring it on! This global economy thingy is sooo dated anyway
posted by twistedonion at 9:31 AM on May 5, 2005

No fresh fruit in the supermarket? How will I survive?

Oh yeah, I'm used to it. I shop at Tescos.

And I may die? That'll be a huge change from now where I'm immortal man, right?
posted by twine42 at 9:32 AM on May 5, 2005

I know and love too many people who would be likely victims to get intellectually distant about the possibility of a post-pandemic future, I'm afraid. Also, it's a long standing personal goal to have antiviral nanobots policing my bloodstream before I die, so I'm definitely on the side of exorbitant funding for these researchers, whether they're exaggerating or not.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:37 AM on May 5, 2005

The idea that a global disaster would unite the people of the world is simply naive. Instead, some nasty people with nasty weapons would say, "NOW is the time to finally wipe out those godless commies/capitalist dogs/foreign devils once and for all!". Do you think Kim Jong Il would look at several million dying peasants and suddenly decide to care about his people? I think he'd order the large remnants of his army to plunder South Korea while the US rapidly recalls its troops.

Every two-bit thug in power would launch an assault. Expect the war-related deaths after the catastrophe to be the real tragedy.
posted by Maxson at 9:41 AM on May 5, 2005

Perhaps there have been a saturation of doomsday warnings. There are somethings that are much more likely then others. Pandemics are much more frequent then meteor strikes, therefore perhaps we should put more weight towards good solid health systems able to handle stuff like this, rather then some vague hope we can detect and pick off a meteor before it creams us. But constant warnings do nothing except dull us to potential real threats.

I think a pandemic would reinforce xenophobic trends, and rather then having our economy rebound after the collapse such trends would keep it depressed. Not only the economy, but much of the basic law enforcement will be strained as well. So, we either have situations that crop up as in any major disaster area with opportunism run amok, or we have martial law. Cheery.

As bad as the last flu disaster was, a modern outbreak would be worse, and near simultaneous worldwide.
It is easy to be blase' from this stand point about this many deaths, but I guarantee you everyone here touting the benefits of a die back will be experiencing just as much PTSD as the rest of the population.
posted by edgeways at 9:47 AM on May 5, 2005

Some of the comments in this thread are the most ignorant, callous, and disgusting things I've read on Metafilter in some time. Some of you are idiots. You know who you are.

Anyway, a pandemic isn't "one of those things" which might or might not happen like a meteor strike, a giant tsunami from the Canary Islands, or other low-probability events. It *will* happen. It will almost certainly happen soon. We are, historically speaking, overdue for the next pandemic. It must be nice to be 14 and sure of your own immortality. At least that's the only excuse I can see for some of these comments. (Metafilter: Some of you are idiots). Just had to preemptive get that out of the way.
posted by Justinian at 9:53 AM on May 5, 2005

Both of those articles were deficient for mine.
The main things arising are:
1. pandemic will occur
2. we are not prepared
3. we can't prepare actual vaccines until the virulent strain becomes known
4. we ain't got enough chicken eggs (needed to grow the virus) and cell culture isn't far enough along to replace the need for the eggs
5. (funnily enough) 3rd world countries likely to be at greatest risk

But what I wanted to know was:

1. What international public health policies/cooperations etc became established because of SARS and are they adequate and if not, in what way -- and are there established centres in each locality in each country that would respond and are they adequate and if not how so.
2. I'm not really sure what they are advocating about the chicken eggs -- do they want to like store 4billion of them or distribute them or have policies in place around the world that you maintain a revolving base of your population level plus one half for vaccine preparation
3. What are the most pressing needs and how do they suggest they be met
4. A hell of a lot less sensationalizing and tubthumping about 1918 (I didn't need to read that like 6 or 26 times) and more constructive input or advice about WHO's position

I don't doubt there's a good case for action but a single Public Health epidemiologist should enlist fellow professionals for help and lobbying (and did they even mention WHO once? What gives?) rather than just hitting the press IMHO.
Or maybe I just read it all a bit too hastily and he's actually a selfless genius to whom we should bestow money, power and prayers.
posted by peacay at 9:54 AM on May 5, 2005

The sun wil become a planetary nebula in a few billion years.

Send me money and I will do what I can to prevent the earth from being incinerated.
posted by mischief at 10:08 AM on May 5, 2005

No fresh fruit in the supermarket? How will I survive?

That was meant to be a single example, chosen to bring what would be a global catastrophe down to a more human scale. But I guess I made the mistake of not being dramatic enough. Let me try this; no food at all at the supermarket, because it's been looted and international agricultural shipments have ground to a halt.

I'm not saying this would necessarily come to pass. But those of you saying the world will be better off once the deadwood has been burned out are living in a fantasy world.
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 10:10 AM on May 5, 2005

I'd love to hear twine42's thoughts on the great effects the Tsunami had on the Asian and South Asian economy... On second thought, I'd rather not.
posted by juiceCake at 10:12 AM on May 5, 2005

Ebola kills the host too quickly to qualify for a pandemic inducing strain. At least, that's my understanding. The mode for Ebola is to kill a lot in a short amount of time. It's the bugs that kill slowly that are to fear, the ones where you infect many others, far and wide, before you die (or recover).
posted by e40 at 10:22 AM on May 5, 2005

"those of you saying the world will be better off once the deadwood has been burned out are living in a fantasy world"

... and your evidence for this is what? ;-P
posted by mischief at 10:23 AM on May 5, 2005

juiceCake - the thread dealing with how world wide disasters have become quite the bumper economy recently. The world bank has used them to change the way business is conducted in several nations in recent years.

justinian - No need for adhominem, instead back up your case. Humans just like plants tend to grow back stronger after a pruning. I think that its perhaps a mark of true maturity to know that short term suffering can result in long term happiness, but then again its a tricky situation to decide whether or not the end justifies the means.

Here's an interesting idea though, 700 million people die what if 1 in 70 had cars. Thats a lot less driving going on...... As for the idea that we wouldn't have food, thats just bullocks, there are plenty of places with community farming co ops that have sprung up recently. I see no reason to not believe that something like that would just increase their popularity. Also with the higher quality eats and zone specific food we would actually be receiving higher quality eats. furthermore technologies like genetically modified foods and drugs would get a lot more attention because in terms of economies of scale they take a good deal less scale for larger results.
posted by sourbrew at 10:30 AM on May 5, 2005

bah i repeated myself the second higher quality eats should read: "healthier foods with a much lower environmental footprint."
posted by sourbrew at 10:31 AM on May 5, 2005

You have convinced me that mass death on a global scale would be a good thing. Bring out your dead!
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 10:33 AM on May 5, 2005

docgonzo: Influenza pandemics have happened 30 times in the last 300 years and killed nearly one billion people.

later that day...

twine42: Getting rid of a few million mouths would do us all a world of good.

So we've been through this before. Did all the previous pandemics fail to produce this brave new Utopia, or is it something that needs to be perpetually repeated, like revolution in China?

Also, I think you people cheering this on are awfully foolish. I think the social and economic breakdown accompanying a global pandemic would cause misery far outweighing any potential good of a short-term drop in population.

Furthermore, I strongly suspect that this breakdown would not ultimately lead to the development of some kind of communist happyland of superior hygiene. Rather, I expect, should it be serious enough to topple governments, we would see the kinds of insanocracies and warlord states found now in third world countries that have experienced such breakdowns.

And lastly, unless this pandemic somehow solved resource distribution inequities (unlikely), the real issues of overpopulation would remain undressed.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:40 AM on May 5, 2005

Also, the "real issues" of overpopulation are a solved problem. Educate your populace and given women something even remotely close to equality and your population growth turns into population decline. Given the choice women appear, oddly enough, to prefer careers to popping out a half dozen kids.

See also: Japan, all of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States (our population is strill growing pretty quickly but it is due to immigration).
posted by Justinian at 10:50 AM on May 5, 2005

Oh god. Undressed.

I meant unaddressed.

posted by thirteenkiller at 10:51 AM on May 5, 2005

For those young, healthy individuals who think this flu will predominantly affect the very young, very old, and infirm, you're in for a nasty surprise. The 1918 pandemic was so unusual because it took people who were in the prime of their lives. Are you in your 20's, eat well, and stay in shape? Tough shit. That means nothing to particular strains of flu. Word around town is that the coming pandemic will be very similar to the 1918 strain (so it's going to take all the young, nubile university students like myself), and will have a higher mortality rate to boot.

I get a pretty constant stream of updates from my father who is working closely with the CDC, and while he's always been the harbinger of doom and gloom, his near assurance that one of us was probably going to be dead from this by next year was in all sincerity.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 10:53 AM on May 5, 2005

GoldenOne is spot on. The peak mortality of the 1918 pandemic was in the 20-29 age bracket. Yes, the 20-29 age bracket. Here:


Look at that monstrous peak at 20-29. This is only for one city in April 1918, but I've seen a similar graph for the entire country and the peak at 20-29 was also present, if less pronounced. Don't worry, I'll be sure to point out that it is for the greater good to sourbrew, mischief, and twine42's loved ones over their corpses.

You can't make an omelette without killing a few people.
posted by Justinian at 11:06 AM on May 5, 2005

Oops, the link I gave it to the main article. Here is the Louisville April 1918 mortality graph:

posted by Justinian at 11:09 AM on May 5, 2005

The theory is that young adults died in the 1918 pandemic because old people and little children had been previously exposed to a somewhat less aggressive strain and consequently had a degree of immunity to the 1918 strain, yes? And also all the young nubiles, as GoldenOne might say, were packed together in WWI trenches breathing on each other.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:16 AM on May 5, 2005

We're not going to make it. No! We ain't going to make it! We're not going to make it, anymoooooore.
posted by tiamat at 11:19 AM on May 5, 2005

The young nubiles were packed together... in WWI trenches... in Louisville, Kentucky? And New York City? And everywhere else in the USA? What?
posted by Justinian at 11:20 AM on May 5, 2005

In the trenches and the transports and the stateside military installations and whatnot. That doesn't explain all of it, but I think it has been given as a contributing factor.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:25 AM on May 5, 2005

ok, for those of you who don't think this is gonna happen, it's already happening. The H5N1 strain has already crossed over into humans with about a 30% mortality rate, but at the time it didn't transfer between subjects very well. That's the only thing that kept that particular strain from decimating asia, where it originated. But that threshold will be crossed, and soon.

And to answer someone's question upthread, we do not know exactly what to prepare for this outbreak once it starts spreading. That's information we're not going to have before people start dying. But what we can do is prepare so we can start reacting to the propblem that day, which we haven't done as of yet
posted by slapshot57 at 11:34 AM on May 5, 2005

Yeah yeah, but what about the zombie problem that will arise?!
posted by Specklet at 12:11 PM on May 5, 2005

According to Professor Paul Ewald, thirteenkiller is correct.

From the May 2005 issue of Fortune Magazine:

"Hospitals tend to become hotbeds for highly virulent germs because transmission is so easy there via conduits such as staffers' hands and equipment. (Many hospitalized patients are immune-suppressed, which also abets germ jumping.) Data on staph infections among hospitalized babies, for instance, suggest that strains of the bacterium endemic to hospitals are five to ten times more likely to cause illness than strains whose virulence hasn't been honed by evolution inside the facilities.

"Ewald posits that the unequaled deadliness of the 1918 Spanish flu reflects the same phenomenon: Jam-packed wartime hospitals and the rapid transport of very ill troops spread flu more effectively than at any other time in history, causing extremely virulent strains of the virus to evolve. Such conditions aren't likely to be repeated, he adds, making the odds that another 1918 pandemic is on the way smaller than suggested by the alarming headlines about Asia's deadly bird flu."

So... there probably will be a pandemic, but it probably won't be as bad as 1918.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:14 PM on May 5, 2005

edgeways is dead on about how a pandemic would definitely not promote togatherness but rather exacerbate paranoid xenophobia.

During the SARS outbreak, even in Asian "friendly"/populated Vancouver there was definitely latent racism against Asians that flared up. It's all about fear.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:42 PM on May 5, 2005

juiceCake - Fair enough. I have no idea what state the Asian economy is in. I'd guess that 'good' is incorrect though. However, it's only six months after the event and entire swathes of land were wiped out. That's not the same as a biological problem where an percentage of the people get wiped out and the rest of the world stays standing.

And just to prove what a heartless bastard I am, I didn't give any money to the tsunami fund. Why? Because why give billions of £$s to a relatively small event when the world is covered in thousands of others all the time?

Medicin sans frontiers (Doctors without borders to our American readers) help everyone not just the newsworthy ones.
posted by twine42 at 1:44 PM on May 5, 2005

I'm not sure why several of you feel that i am convinced that i am young and immortal. I'm not sure i would live through such a thing. Also speculations about past pandemics are almost meaningless in terms of what happened afterwards. Our technological sophistication is in a far different level than it was previously. I do believe that we would suffer some serious growing pains following such a thing, but 700 million people are not enough to throw the world into a power vacuum. Most of those deaths would be centralized in poor countries, which leaves the mighty US with an army thats still freaking huge. Not to mention that if the pandemic has the decency to wait 15 years the us military will be largely automated anyway.
posted by sourbrew at 1:58 PM on May 5, 2005

Also we will have flying cars.
posted by spock at 2:27 PM on May 5, 2005

young and immortal

Heh, I was thinking more "young and immoral."
posted by docgonzo at 3:08 PM on May 5, 2005

*sharpens his killin' tools in preperation for armageddeon.

note to self: reread "the Stand"
posted by schyler523 at 3:30 PM on May 5, 2005

While I sadly agree that the only way to unite humanity is to have it be faced with a worldwide problem, I think that the trouble must seem sentient in nature. It's the only way we'd avoid blaming each other by defualt.

And if the hypothetical invading aliens were crafty enough to ally with a few nations/races rather then being equal opportunity destroyers, there'd be no hope at all.
posted by catachresoid at 3:32 PM on May 5, 2005

Fair enough. I have no idea what state the Asian economy is in. I'd guess that 'good' is incorrect though.

I just find it bizarre that so many things have to be seen from an economic perspective rather than the cost of human lives and what they contribute to the world or to each other. There are better ways to improve our economy and relationships with each other than having a lot of people die in a pandemic or by other means.

Yes in economic terms less people equals more jobs in some sense, it also means less consumers. All said, in economic terms, it would be great if all the wealthy people lived during the pandemic and the poor people died. Although, on the other hand, then the poor people wouldn't work for cheap which would affect prices which would...

I just don't get that line of reasoning. Hey, it's not all bad, the economy will be better! Perhaps the pharamacy companies should stop doing business...
posted by juiceCake at 3:53 PM on May 5, 2005

Perhaps the pharamacy companies should stop doing business...

Perhaps they should. My "medicine" would still be available.
posted by schyler523 at 3:57 PM on May 5, 2005

Why the scare quotes? And hey, too bad if those "cancer" patients are hoping to survive their "tumors". Screw the drug companies! Too bad they didn't shut down before "insulin".
posted by Justinian at 4:15 PM on May 5, 2005

That's it, no more death allowed...it is now against the law to die. Fuck overpopulation and shit, just stop dying, why won't you stop dying you insensitive...*sigh*

I could care less about a sizeable percentage of the global population dying (especially religious extremists of any type)...if it means that no more animals go extinct...or habitats destroyed...etc.

Humans will not go extinct, unless by their own hands...

*dons flameproof suit, ducks*
posted by schyler523 at 4:39 PM on May 5, 2005

I could care less about a sizeable percentage of the global population dying (especially religious extremists of any type)...if it means that no more animals go extinct

Glad you're following in the xenophobic, racist footsteps of the earliest American environmentalists like the Sierra Club.

The ignorance, stupidity and insensitivity I've read in this thread is amazing. I'm sorry I posted it.
posted by docgonzo at 5:11 PM on May 5, 2005

schyler523: Out of curiosity, if a train was going to run over a group of five human infants and a group of the last Dodo birds in existence, and you only had time to save one group, which one would you save?

I only ask because the instinct for humans to save other humans has always struck me as being rather strong and widespread. Divergence from that pattern intrigues me.

docgonzo: I wouldn't presume xenophobia automatically. It's possible to dislike all of humanity equally.
posted by catachresoid at 5:29 PM on May 5, 2005

Humans will not go extinct, unless by their own hands...

don't look now but we might be in the process already if you simply look at us as you would a parasite to any host, but it isn't a mutually beneficial relationship. earth-host is being eaten in the process of our tick cleaning.

we are simply using up the planet, and so far, it doesn't appear as though humans 'balance' in the same manner as other life forms that inhabit this joint.
we are our own predators but too bad we don't make better use of our dead.
posted by emdog at 5:31 PM on May 5, 2005

That's it, no more death allowed...it is now against the law to die. Fuck overpopulation and shit, just stop dying, why won't you stop dying you insensitive...*sigh*

Ahh, where's this coming from? No one is saying death shouldn't be allowed or it's against the law. That would be utterly ridiculous. Perhaps comprehension beyond simple equations escapes you?
posted by juiceCake at 6:32 PM on May 5, 2005

I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure. -Agent Smith, The Matrix
posted by exlotuseater at 8:56 PM on May 5, 2005

catachresoid While I sadly agree that the only way to unite humanity is to have it be faced with a worldwide problem

Yes, but it would *have* to be worldwide at the same time. Like I said, SARS started in rural SE China. Jet travel eventually brought it to the rest of the Earth.

Unless some pandemic was engineered and 'intelligently' diseminated, whoever is ethinically associated with the (media indicated, likely, with all probability of being wrong) place where zero-ground is assigned.

Wait - say some strong country wanted to go to war with another country - wouldn't blaming a pandemic on said country a useful tool to manipulate the populace and the rest of the world?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:03 PM on May 5, 2005

I wonder if we can use the excess bodies (we'll never be able to bury them all) for oil...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:52 PM on May 5, 2005

"Yes, but it would *have* to be worldwide at the same time."

Is that even possible with a virus? The case where it's engineered, as you point out, is subject to blame. But even beyond that, who would both have the resources to do so, and would be insane enough to go through the trouble? "Those New Guineaians have foiled me for the last time--and I sure won't forget Poland, either! Bwahah!"

Hmmm. Perhaps if the planet flew through an extrasolar cloud of spores, you could get simultaneous worldwide coverage.

A black hole entering the solar system would be worldwide, but perhaps too difficult to explain on the one hand, and too difficult to stop on the other.
posted by catachresoid at 12:39 AM on May 6, 2005

fhsgrl I hope you're right, but I'm not so sure about that. I hope we're not only concerned about "Western Lives" anyway. But that said, even though this article is asinine, we are for the first time in history aware of the pandemic we are about to face. What we have will be a forest fire, and we are armed with a squirt gun. We either stop it now, or we risk millions of lives (maybe our own, maybe not). The matter deserves our attention.

Regarding Geoff's comment:
I'm all for preparedness, but weren't we lead to believe the West Nile virus was going to be killing old people left and right?

This is quite different. Forgive me if I sound pedantic, I don't know how much you know about this:

Every year (or two or three) you get a flu. Say it's H4N2 or something like that. You were born with some protection against this flu b/c over the years your parents or your grandparents or their grandparents (or all of them) faced some variation of this flu and survived. Once you get it, you're immune from that version of it, until another mutation of it shows up and then you get sick again. The virus keeps changing, but it's essential proteins remain the same. This is called antigenic drift.

Every thirty years ago, the proteins that compose the flu alter via transmission from bird to pig to human. So though it's still called a flu, it's not a version of H4N2 that you're getting. It's H5N1, and your body has never seen it before (and has absolutely zero immunity). This is called antigenic shift.

H5N1 DOES appear to be more virulent than the Spanish Flu. The Spanish Flu killed 3% of its victims; the H5N1 flu has so far killed 70%.

I'm not saying we're all going to die. If H5N1 is too virulent, it can eradicate itself, because it depends on the living sick to communicate it to the healthy. But we should be concerned enough to do the following:

1. Stop factory farming here, and modify farm practices in Asia; promote sanitary healthful farm methods that don't include either millions of cows and pigs standing shoulder to shoulder in their own feces or humans living shoulder to should with their cows and pigs (and god, please, no poop).

2. Offer incentives to pharmaceutical companies for immunization research. Pharmaceutical giants are more likely to conduct accelerated work on the cashcows of known illnesses than on something that MIGHT happen. Make it worth their while. We only need it once.

3. Pass S.969, Barack Obama's bill to amend the Public Health Service Act with respect to preparation for an influenza pandemic, which calls for the government to stockpile the anti-viral medication oseltamivir. The U.S. is already behind in the queue to place an order from the limited supply of the medication, for which there is a single manufacturer worldwide.

So if it does happen, fine. I'll be thrilled. But there's nothing wrong with being ready, right? (Pardon my paranoia and seriousness and boringness--without wanting to be alarmist, I don't want anyone to skip over the importance of this public health crisis. So pbttth.)
posted by Lady Penelope at 8:32 AM on May 26, 2005

Sorry fshgrl, I previewed that and I STILL typoed your name. My apologies.
posted by Lady Penelope at 8:34 AM on May 26, 2005

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