There are two ways to sleep well at night ... be ignorant or be prepared.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What Would Be an Overreaction at this Point to H5N1?

For the last few years, there have been credible voices in the wilderness, sounding warnings about a coming flu pandemic. Dr. Michael Osterholm has famously used the apt analogy of being in Iowa, watching a tornado touch down 35 miles away, and then having to watch it keep coming ever closer, mile by mile.

The danger in this approaching storm, according to Osterholm, is that one simply cannot imagine a force with a capability of doing more damage to modern society than what a worst-case pandemic could unleash upon us.

The destructive power of the H5N1 supercell bearing down on us is potentially immense--and we're not just talking in terms of human lives lost.

Yes, there's still room for prayer and realistic hope that this "bird flu" virus will not make the final genetic adaptations to allow for rapid human to human communicability ... or that even if it does, it will lose some of it's lethality, which right now is off the charts in terms of being over 50% fatal to those infected, even with the best medical care available.

Dr. Osterholm has been warning of a viral storm sweeping across the planet that not only kills, but just as callously collapses the economic pillars of society in its wake.

Some folks HAVE been watching the stormcells approaching, since even before H5N1 first appeared on the radar screens in 1997 in Asia. We've been due and now overdue for the next great global flu pandemic, and this particular flu strain is looking very much like it is about to assume that mantle. It is possible it will become the most deadly flu strain to strike mankind in history, unless it suddenly, somehow, weakens as it mutates into the human scourge it seems destined to become.

Presidential Mention Draws Public Attention

At President Bush's October 4 press conference, he spoke at some length about the "important" topic of how we must plan and be proactive in anticipation of the H5N1 virus now. Subsequently, the media has embraced the subject with the usual fervent stampede afforded any "story of the hour" more relevant than, say, a Brittney Spears brassiere auction or a Michael Jackson facial suction.

For once, the public attention being drawn to H5N1 is warranted in my view, and not at all overdone as a few pundits are now moaning. Of course, in short order, the media WILL shift en masse and move viewers' attention away to whatever is next on the playbill. But folks will be well-advised to accept that this flu story will not disappear until one way or the other, the virus is rendered a "has-been."

So can we overreact to the threat? I suppose we can--particularly as individuals if we allow ourselves to become too focused on the pandemic possibility, at the expense of giving proper due to our normal day-to-day obligations and to our loved ones. Balance and calm is always key.

I need to be clear--there certainly are things we should all be doing now to prepare our households for a pandemic (see previous posts), should it actually occur. Moreover, governmental (federal, state, and especially local) and corporate authorities should be swarming all over this for as long as it takes to be fully prepared ... and we would all be wise to make sure they know about their constituents' expectations in this area. Lastly, the major media need to do the responsible thing and keep the heat on this story to make sure everything IS done that CAN be done to minimize risks before all we are left with is forced reactive measures that are never going to be as effective as they could have been.

Are YOU Overreacting?

It seems that even with the media's saturation/infatuation with the glorious gloom and doom of H5N1 for over a week now, there are still relatively few naysayers among them standing up. That is another indicator of how preparedness in general is becoming more widely accepted. Yes, there are plenty of efforts underway to try to properly downgrade the doom factor, and that's understandable since no one wants the scare to prematurely deflate the already shaky economy ... which by the way will ultimately be the most significant and impactful victim of a deadly pandemic--possibly killing as many in the end with its collapse as the virus would accomplish all by itself.

So are we overreacting?

No, not as a nation or as communities within that nation. A pandemic of the magnitude that is potentially on the doorstep is a bonafide threat to our way of life. And to this point, we are woefully unprepared to endure it. It would be very difficult to imagine how we could collectively overreact to the threat (although the folks who gleefully accused Y2K preventive efforts as being a "cry wolf" boondoggle would no doubt be quick to point fingers if this disaster is averted).

Individually, we need to keep a close eye on things and be sure we are taking the prudent steps to give our families a fighting chance should the virus make that fateful leap into the human population. But realize, just as with most other threats worth taking steps to mitigate, a pandemic is not at all a sure thing yet. And we are each best-served if we remind ourselves that we are limited in how much control we can ever actually exert over our futures.

Live today, prepare for tomorrow, but never obsess over what MIGHT be down the road.

If you can do no more than to simply embrace life and love today, then you are ahead of the game.

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