Pandemic Flu: We Are Not Prepared (subscription required)
|Posted 4/15/2005 - Marc Lipsitch, D. Phil|
The world faces a new influenza pandemic about 3 times each century. The 1918 pandemic killed at least 20 million people. We don't know when the next one will hit, but flu experts agree that we are now at high risk for a serious pandemic. H5N1 flu has become endemic in Asian birds, and at least 74 human cases, including 49 deaths and probable human-to-human transmission, have occurred since the beginning of 2004.
We are unprepared for a new pandemic. International health officials lack the resources to monitor avian flu in a human population of hundreds of millions in affected parts of Asia, including some countries with almost no public health systems. Asia needs a significant stockpile of the anti-influenza drug oseltamavir, on-site, to treat and stop transmission of the early cases that could give rise to a pandemic.
If a pandemic reached the United States today, we could manufacture only enough vaccine for perhaps a quarter of our population. Our planned domestic stockpile of oseltamavir would leave over 99% of the country unprotected. Proportionally, Great Britain's stockpile will be 25 times greater, and some authorities suggest that even that isn't enough. To make a dent in a pandemic, vaccines and antivirals will be needed in much greater quantities than current plans allow.
Pandemic flu is an enemy that we know will return. Indeed, of the 12 disaster scenarios recently assessed by the US Department of Homeland Security, it is the most likely and perhaps the most deadly. Our surveillance and countermeasures abroad are inadequate, and current response plans won't do much to slow a pandemic once it is under way. The United States, and the world, must meet this enemy with the seriousness, the investment, and the urgency that it demands.
That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health. To contact the author: email@example.comMarc Lipsitch, D. Phil , Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Department of Epidemiology and Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
Medscape General Medicine. 2005; 7 (2): ©2005 Medscape
It's not like we haven't been receiving warnings from the profesional health community for like a year now. What is the government waiting for? Is Bush-war hoping that a good portion of the elderly and feeble will be the main victims of this next epidemic, you know, "weed out" the least productive portion of our society? In the early part of the 20th century the flu epidemic affected nearly every family in America. Today, with a world population several times larger than that of the last flu epidemic, and with many more, and more crowded, metropolises (metropoli?), this will be a much more devastating event. Let's start asking our congressmembers and senators what they're doing about this; after all, that's why we put them in office, to serve our safety and security needs.