With about as much surprise as the sky being blue we find ourselves in the midst of a media whirlwind about the latest influenza outbreak. As per usual interesting world events always seem to happen when I’m traveling overseas, although in this case it was only Tasmania so I wasn’t too much out of touch with what was happening. However the media I had access to wasn’t initially the CDC website, WHO website or anywhere truly useful but the bog standard and crappy normal media with their teams of incompetent buffoons. However it would appear I was not the only one and even those who should know better, such a national health ministers, seem unable to know how to find out useful information.
The initial surprise of how long Mexico sat on their hands before realising they had a serious problem was soon followed by reports of countries banning pork. After Indonesia’s debacle at handling the H5N1 problem and their ongoing deaths I would have thought that Mexico noticed this and also China’s canning over it’s slow response to ask for help. But apparently not. Reports trickling out of the backwaters of Mexico suggest that this virus has been on the go since early March, which is fantastic as it has been widely accepted that contagious diseases need to have containment and controls lines set up within 21 days. It is simply amazing that a country such as Mexico, which I thought was reasonably advanced, could have botched this so badly. Hopefully they will learn from this as their economy takes a thumping as it closes down for a week or two.
And then we find that various countries around the world are banning imports of pork products. Like, WTF? I realise that in nearly all of these countries the level of science education is quite low but it really isn’t rocket science to know that influenza is transmitted by contact and people coughing. It is not the sort of disease transmitted by eating the creatures infected. And what’s more, last time I checked most people cook pork and don’t eat raw pig lungs.
However, for some good news, CNN has actually had some decent reporting. Pointing out the usual weekly death rate from flu in the USA is still more than the all the deaths of this H1N1 strain is a step in the right direction. Furthermore pointing out the world isn’t going to end in a Zombie controlled mess and the current lethality is only 8% is also a good step in countering the usual hype from the media.
And then we get the dumness again. Here in Australia we have the thermal scanning at airports. Even after the experts point out it will not work because people carrying the virus don’t develop symptoms for 7 days we get stupid claims about “protecting Australia”. Pigs arse you are going to protect Australia this way. It has been pointed out before there really is no way to prevent the spread of these types of diseases. Sure, you can slow them down so your health services are not swamped but the conception of detecting something with such a long latency is simply a joke. The money would be better spent on direct health care where and when it is needed.
Now we get onto some of the local comments. We have the various health ministers and experts commenting on how well prepared we are to handle this. As someone who has had a child with Influenza A in hospital in Adelaide ,I’ll call bullshit on that one. The concept of isolation was not used until my sick son had been sitting amongst non flu hospital patients for about 4 hours. And this was in the middle of the flu A outbreak when the hospitals ran out of ward space. This was the same year the hospital morgue ran out of room and the refrigerated shipping containers were used for overflow. Now I’m not saying that this isn’t coping but it isn’t coping in the way your average voting citizen expects. Why can’t they be upfront about what will happen if this is a pandemic? Be open with the fact that hospitals won’t have room, it’s simply too expensive to have that much spare capacity. Be open with the fact your morgue will overflow and you’ll be using shipping containers. Even if we had a measly 1% of very sick people there is no way in a pink fit 10,000 people turning up to hospitals in Adelaide is going to work. And if we had 10% sick and 1% fatalities just be open and realistic that the standard of health care is simply not going to be very good. Doctors and nurses don’t grow on trees. Neither do administration staff or people who drive medical supply trucks or ambulances. We live in such a safe society we simply can’t deal with small disasters and our expectations of health care and government support are incredibly high due to lack of major threats for many generations.
So in summary, ignore the wild hype, we don’t need to get excited and run around like headless chooks. Yep, it may be really bad however it most likely won’t be as bad as what your grandparents survived in 1918 and the resources we do have these days are so much better. You really don’t need to get too exited, you were listening to the repeated warnings scientists have been saying for decades about this sort of scenario? You did support increased science funding by lobbying politicians didn’t you? Because without that lobbying we wouldn’t have the H1N1 vaccine already…oh wait…you listened to the hype and not the scientists? Maybe if a few more media stations did what CNN has now done and have some decent science reporting this current mess would not have got out of control.