Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
In 1918, the Spanish flu swept through the world and caused a pandemic that no country was prepared for. The avian flu, a virus that has killed 100 million fowl in Asia, has the ability to mutate and become lethal to humans. If it does, experts predict the pandemic could kill 1.9 million U.S. citizens.
The World Health Organization has been stating that a flu epidemic is imminent for months, yet the U.S. government has only recently paid notice. Trickling through press releases and news conferences, the government's response has been lackluster at best.
While the avian flu is currently only transferable in fowl, the chance of mutation is growing. More frightening than this prospect is the lack of public knowledge about the virus. When the avian flu is mentioned, people murmur that they already received their shots. The populace must understand what the government hasn't grasped: This is not a case of high fevers and ensuring people drink plenty of fluids.
The flu could become another plague, whisking through communities, passing quickly from recipient to recipient and killing thousands every day. Reports from organizations on the forefront of this epidemic have noted for years that the world would not be able to combat a pandemic if this mutation occurs. Only recently has the U.S. directed companies to produce the only drug that is capable of fighting this strain of the virus.
The government apparently feels secure that its actions, amounting to little more than coordinating various drug companies, will keep its citizens safe. This is a deadly form of national navel gazing. Rather than planning on what the government can do in a year, the U.S. should focus on handling the disaster that is on its doorstep.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the obvious faults seen in first response, the government is focusing on a tangent when the main point is being lost amid the complexities of the problem. The government held a five-day conference to re-enact a scenario of a hurricane landing on the mainland of the U.S. What is stopping a pandemic from killing 2 million people when the United States can't respond to a prepared scenario?
The creation of stockpiles of vaccines is a worthy effort, but it should not be the top priority. Resources should focus on first-response preparedness, government responses to an outbreak scenario and informing the public about the disease.
The U.S. government feels it is properly handling this imminent threat, but it could not be further from the truth. The lack of government information and action could prove a hazardous harbinger of the possible pandemic to come.
Opinions are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Ryan Johnson, Damion LeeNatali, Aaron Mackey, Mike Morefield and Tim Runestad.