It's not a matter of "if" but "when." The lay offs and the stock market are scary right now but the millions of people that are expected to die in the future is a scary thought that will linger for years to come. It's time to prepare for a different kind of disaster, a large scale pandemic.
Most scientists agree that a version of H5N1, or the avian flu, will cause an extremely deadly pandemic in the future.
In order to prepare for the pandemic, many hospitals are stock pilling facemasks and vaccines. While most other vaccines cost less than $20, avian flu vaccines run anywhere from $400 to $600 dollars on the black market today. Because of the current state of our economy, paying that much for a vaccine is out of the question for many Americans. Ultimately we have to ask ourselves; how can we save our lives?
In 1918, an estimated 675,000 Americans died during the Spanish Flu outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Today we are much more prepared than we were then but many people are worried that the steps we have taken to prevent the avian flu pandemic, are not enough.
According to Stephanie Backus of the Disaster News Network, "Four years ago President Bush announced a national strategy in order to combat the potential for this deadly virus," said Dr. Robin Robinson, senior project officer of the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "It was a pandemic influenza implementation plan." While Bush's avian flu plan had many components, the largest was making vaccines available to 20 million people who are at high risk for getting the H5N1 flu or are essential in a time of national emergency. "We also wanted to make sure we could have everyone in the U.S. vaccinated within six months of the pandemic declaration," Robinson said.
The first avian flu case was reported in Hong Kong in 1997. While many chickens were found with the H5N1 virus, no humans were infected. Since then, the virus has appeared in many third world countries including Asia, and in October of 2005 infected poultry was discovered in Turkey and Romania.
So far, hundreds of people have been infected with the H5N1 virus. Many people have died with the largest dying population under the age of 25. The people that have the highest risk of being infected include: farmers and people that work with poultry, travelers visiting the mentioned affected countries, people that will handle infected birds, people who eat raw or undercooked poultry.
Initially the virus was spread only from bird to bird contact but scientists agree that it can now be spread by simple skin-to-skin contact between certain species, including humans. Depending on the form of the virus, symptoms may vary. However, the most common symptoms include:
Fever (greater than 104 degrees F)
The danger is these symptoms are very similar to the common flu so prevention and early detection are vital to one's chances at living. There are some treatments that make the flu less severe but these must be taken within 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms.
While the threat is real and many are expected to die, there are many people that just don't care. We have enough on our plates, as it is, why worry about what could happen instead of what already is?
Unfortunately, because the seriousness of the situation is not at its peak, it will not be until the death tolls add up, that people start to worry. While the avian flu has not yet hit the United States, scientists say we can expect lots of grief to come.