Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yes, we have no pandemic.

New York City, State and the US Federal Government aren't using the word. But I think it's worth pointing out that it's the right word to use.

North America is currently experiencing an influenza pandemic. "What?!" you say, "they told us it's not a pandemic yet!" Well, sort of. It's not a global pandemic, but it is a pandemic. And no, a pandemic is not necessarily always global, it can also be national or regional.

Based on the guidelines in the W.H.O. document "Pandemic Influenza and Preparedness Response," we have "human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region." What we don't yet have, but will certainly have soon is "community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different W.H.O. region in addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5."

It seems our local, state and federal government don't want to use the word pandemic yet - perhaps simply to prevent panic. But we should be aware that there is currently a pandemic of H1N1 flu in the United States. Or as I am calling it "Factory Farm Flu."

If you pay attention, you'll hear the correct language from W.H.O. For example Margaret Chan, the W.H.O. director general was quoted by the New York Times today saying "W.H.O. will be tracking the pandemic."

Of course, there's a bright side. Riding your bicycle and avoiding the subway is a great way to avoid the Factory Farm Flu.


Charlotte said...

But your chart says "widespread human infection".

Ordinary influenza:
"between three and five million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year around the world"

According to wikipedia (caveat right there) we're looking at swine flu numbers of 4,000 cases and maybe 200 deaths.

Which one would you call a pandemic?

Michael said...

It's actually the World Health Organization's chart, and they just yesterday declared that we are in Phase 5.

It's important to note that New York City is not currently testing people for Factory Farm Flu. They are telling them to stay home and get better before leaving the house. So there is NO effort currently to document the cases that are occurring. The only time they are documented is if someone gets very ill and has to go to the hospital.

So, as is also the case in Mexico, it's likely there are many thousands of people home with the new flu out of NYC's 8 million residents. That's what NYC meant when they said in the press conference that "it is here and it is spreading."

Charlotte said...

But even that supposition is nowhere near "between three and five million cases of severe illness"...

I know mothers who are keeping their children inside in rural Colorado because of the press coverage over this. It all just seems so knee-jerk and fear-mongering to me. I like a good scare as much as anyone, but this one seems like a press conference going out of control!

We were living in Paris during the avian flu scare. Every night on television they had people in biohazard suits stuffing live birds into trash cans. It was ridiculous! Perhaps that's scarred me.

Michael said...

Here's how I suggest looking at it. Most wealthy nations have clean water, access to food and generally healthy populations.

Most poor nations do not. In the US, this will spread like a normal flu, everyone will get it and almost everyone will be OK. But in the rest of the world, where people are in poorer health, have no clean water or access to medical supplies, they will die.

We should be very concerned, because our brothers and sisters around the world who live in poverty will be the most affected by this disease. A disease caused by our greed. We pack millions of pigs and birds into factory farms and pump them with drugs - and this is what happens. And the rest of the world will suffer the most because of it.

Charlotte said...

Oh, no doubt we should be concerned!

But I prefer we focus on the needs of others (clean water, medicine, research on their behalf) and less on the fears... scaring people into irrational behavior that will have no effect on those very real needs. The current media coverage WILL NOT HELP. In my opinion, calling it a pandemic will only scare people into fearing for their own safety, not create any kind of meaningful, lasting change.

I've been a vegetarian for, wow, 20 years now (Zut! I'm getting old!) and agree about the issues with factory farming, however, my great great Aunt Charlotte remembers the Spanish flu pandemic (20 to 100 million people were killed worldwide). She was living there in New York City and people were very scared. But it seems these flus come through every so often. They certainly weren't factory farming back then like we are now, at least with respect to pumping drugs.

How can we make this outbreak lead to more good in the world?