In 2009 when the H1N1 flu began to spread there was PANIC.
The outbreak began the weekend of April 24th when groups of students at a high school in Queens in New York became ill—all at once. Overtime, the spread of H1N1 became a global concern.
Then in 2014, a person from Africa brought Ebola to our country and there was even more panic. Ebola: a virus that is not air-borne, that is passed from direct contact with a symptomatic person’s body fluids—vomit, blood, watery feces. Healthcare workers became infected because they were working directly with very sick patients who were passing copious amounts of infected body fluids. But hospitals isolated them, cared for them and they all survived.
WHAT IS PANIC: a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior. Repeat: wildly UNTHINKING behavior. Do you even remember what happened in 2009? Probably not.
BIRD FLU H7N9 But now an even bigger global pandemic looms and there is no fear, no panic. Basically because people are not aware of it and the government is ignoring it.
The problem is a bird flu, H7N9, that mostly infects poultry. However, it has started jumping from chickens to humans more easily, which is very bad news. The virus is a killer. People can easily get pneumonia from this flu, end up in intensive care with severe respiratory problems and die.
Right now H7N9 CANNOT easily spread from person to person like other flus. But the longer it stays in humans, the better chance it will mutate to become more contagious.
When that happens it’s just a matter of time before it hops on a plane out of China, lands on foreign soil, and there spreads like wildfire. Scientists want you to know that this is real, not some script for a horror movie. It is a highly plausible nightmare scenario that should be keeping the American President and other world leaders up at night.
WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks H7N9 as the flu strain with the greatest pandemic potential, one that can go global. It is seen to be so deadly that it could kill tens of millions.
- Bill Gates, World Health Org. Director Margaret Chan, former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden all warn that we are scarily exposed, not doing near enough to even consider how to fight this.
- To help, The Gates Foundation alone is giving 100 million dollars over the next five years to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) which might get us to a vaccine and also invest in next generation technologies that can counter future threats.
- The Trump Administration is blind to this: key government positions remain unfilled, including a new director for the CDC. (as of May 2017). They have proposed slashes to funding for Health and Human Services (HHS) and also cuts to National Institutes of Health (NIH)–which underwrites serious infectious-disease research.
- The budget for the State Department foreign aid which supports efforts to stop the spread of diseases that can come to the U.S. has also been cut by 28%. Some of the cuts have been blocked, but what is obvious is that the VISION of this government does not include the possibility of a pandemic. They don’t seem to care.
The 1918 flu pandemic killed 50 million people–more than the combined total casualties of World Wars I and II. And we are even more vulnerable now. Why?
- There are more of us and we live in more densely populated areas.
- We travel; 4 billion trips were taken last year by airplane and diseases go with them even if a disease starts in a remote place on this earth.
- It’s extremely expensive to deal with these global outbreaks. SARS in 2003 killed only 800 people, but cost the global economy 54 billion dollars.
- The World Bank estimates that a severe flu pandemic would cost 4 trillion dollars.
SOME GOOD NEWS and BAD NEWS
There is an ambitious program called PREDICT that might be able to respond to emerging pathogens. It was launched in 2009 and is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and has helped discover nearly 1,000 new viruses in animals and in humans. “Outbreaks are like fires,” says Dr. Eddy Rubin who partners with PREDICT. “If you’re able to understand where there is a greater likelihood of their occurring and detect them early, you can shift the impact.”
There is also the Global Virome Project, a strategy to identify, characterize and sequence a half-million viruses in animals that have the potential to spill over and cause human deaths. But cuts to USAID’s budget would greatly compromise this work.
There are many concerns voiced by folks who work in science and medicine. There is not enough current funding and were we to suddenly have to deal with an outbreak, not enough hospital beds to help people. “In a situation like the 1918 pandemic, the expectation is that the resources are not going to be there for everyone,” says Melissa Harvey, who head the division of national health care preparedness programs at Health and Human Services (HHS). The United States right this moment needs sustained funding for pandemic preparedness that extends out for years!! We need research and development to create vaccines. That’s the only way to deal with a pandemic–line people up to be vaccinated. Otherwise, it’s the panic on the Titanic–who gets a lifeboat that is, a hospital bed.
TRUMP’S PLANS & PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
During the last election campaign, the Republican candidate stated over and over that his goal was to keep Americans safe. His multi-billion dollar wall CANNOT stop a pandemic. Cutting aid to programs that help fight diseases overseas is like cutting our CIA and military budget in time of war. We must have funds to prepare for a pandemic.
“The emerging climate of fake news and alternate facts leaves us worse off than ever before,” says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist.”I’m very worried, because I am certain there will be an outbreak.”
YES. What if Trump tweeted that the pandemic vaccine wouldn’t save lives but cause Autism (a fake notion he leans to.) What I just wrote MAKES NO SENSE, but in a panic situation, people will listen and react. They won’t get inoculated and the disease will spread. Please read more about HERD IMMUNITY here.
And please remember: PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN GOVERNMENT IS CRITICAL TO PUBLIC SAFETY. Educate yourselves. Talk to your doctors and caregivers. Bill Gates reflects: “when I was a kid, the disaster we worried about most was a nuclear war. But today, if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it is likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.”
Tell your Congress Person to: FUND and SUPPORT THE CDC, HHS, and the National Institutes of Health and to work with the World Health Organization. The lives of your family may depend on it.
Photo: The Royal Society Interface and thanks to TIME MAGAZINE, May 15,2017