It may not be getting many headlines just yet, but H5N1 -- Avian Flu -- is likely to be one of the bigger stories of the next few years. There are signs that H5N1 is becoming easier to transmit from person to person. As a result, Dr. David Nabarro, heading up the UN's response to the Avian Flu, has projected the very real possibility of 150 million people dying this winter from an Avian flu pandemic.
150 million people.
But such a scenario is by no means fore-ordained. There's much we can do now to head off a global pandemic. The most important step we can take is to raise awareness -- not to panic everyone, but to enable the planning and preparation necessary to respond appropriately when a potential pandemic strikes. Even if H5N1 burns out quickly and never becomes a global threat, it's hardly the only candidate; the more we do now, the better off we are for whatever does eventually hit.
To this end, WorldChanging ally Flu Wiki is spearheading an effort to make October 3-9 Pandemic Flu Awareness Week. They're asking bloggers and other online folks to work to increase public consciousness of the risk of pandemic:
What can you do? There are actually many things you can do, from educating yourself, to thinking about how your business would be affected if 20% or more of the work force were out sick (or 20% of your delivery force were out sick), to finding out what your hospital, town, or state is doing to prepare. Even asking the question gives (sometimes reluctant) local officials the impetus to examine what they’ve done and what they still need to do to prepare and plan. Here’s an example of a discussion of community preparedness ongoing in the Flu Wiki Forum.
A pandemic can’t be ‘organized away’ into insignificance. But planning and participation can help you to help your local authorities and public officials share information and begin dealing with the tough issues of rationing of medication, vaccines and even hospital beds. A broader knowledge base will better allow you to be an effective participant in these very important discussions.
Pandemic Flu Awareness Week is related to Alex's call in late August for an effort to "Out-Collaborate a Pandemic." At the time, Alex suggested:
...if you're reading this and you have a blog, make a point of posting something about bird flu this week (feel free to use the links we mention here, if that makes life easier). If you maintain a list, perhaps consider include a small note about starting to prepare for bird flu the next time you send something out. If you're active in an online discussion, think about raising the topic there. [...] Simple, quick, easy, and -- if enough of us do it -- perhaps enough to make a difference.
Awareness of H5N1 is not enough, in and of itself, to prevent a pandemic. It is, however, a necessary step.
Be sure to add Flu Wiki to your regular online haunts, and here are some other useful Avian Flu-related resources:
"There are signs that H5N1 is becoming easier to transmit from person to person."
This assumes the current unfolding scenario, in which a pandemic virus would emerge via small mutations that build on previous small mutations and so on.
Another possible scenario would happen recombination: two different viruses mix inside an animal (people included) and out comes a third one. One which may be both transmissible and new to our immune system.
The slower path seems to be already underway. The faster path is unpredictable but possible, given that huge numbers of poultry mix with huge numbers of pigs. And humans.
So we really don't know how fast things might move.
What we do may matter.
Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 4 Oct 05
The 150 million is not accepted by the World Health Organization (from the article):
Nabarro also made several missteps in his initial news conference at the UN on Thursday, including straying far afield from the WHO's estimate of the number of deaths a new pandemic might exact. He suggested between five million and 150 million people might die.
Less than 24 hours later the Geneva-based WHO reeled back in Nabarro's estimate, saying its own longstanding projection of two million to 7.4 million excess deaths was more likely.
I'm not trying to lessen the importance of the issue, just passing on this correction.
You're correct -- the WHO does not accept the "up to 150 million" estimate. However, the WHO has been roundly criticized by many working on H5N1 issues for downplaying the severity of the problem (search for "world health organization" on any of the Avian Flu blogs and sites linked to find examples).
I'm certainly not saying that the WHO is wrong, and that pandemic catastrophe is the only scenario. I'm just saying that the numbers picked by WHO for its official position may be just as biased as Nabarro's numbers.
I don't think in the real world 150,000,000 is even close. I think half billion is more like it. 20-3- million just in North America alone.
This is serious business.
At The teachable moment (by Peter Sandman and Jody Lanard), look at the chapter "The numbers game". From a certain threshold upwards, there's no point in arguing. We should be getting ready anyway.
Also, it's not just the deaths, but also the diseased and the disruption. (Talk about 3D!) This means: if 25% of the population are ill (they will recomend/force you to stay at home), and an extra 10% is taking care of them, and the others fear going into public places (like the shoe-shop where you make a living), and a few key places (like water safety in cities) fail, then what? Yes, I know not all fall ill at the same time: make it 3-5 weeks making up for most of the cases in one given place, with ongoing trouble in the cities where your providers live. If many tourists postpone their travelling for a few months because their relatives might fall ill, then what? True potential is there, I believe. I so hope we're wrong, of course.
We WC readers might do a few things.