Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Avian flu once more

A while ago we had a flurry of comments (or at least what counts as a 'flurry' for this site) about avian flu, and whether or not the danger or a pandemic among humans was real, or just another example of media fear-mongering. This story from yesterday's New York Times has a little something for both camps. It's a mini-profile of Dr. Jeremy Farrar, a physician at Ho Chi Minhn City's Hospital for Tropical Diseases. Vietnam has seen more human avian flu cases than any other country in the world, and Dr. Farrar and his colleagues in Ho Chi Minhn are, therefore, some of the most experienced avian flu-fighters around.

Happily for me, since I was arguing that the danger of an avian flu epidemic was being exagerated, Dr. Farrar feels that a pandemic is unlikely. He also does not believe that tamiflu, the only drug available to fight avian flu, will be a likely solution to a pandemic should one arise. For those opposite me on this issue, however, Dr. Farrar reaffirms the killing potential of the virus if it manages to spread from human to human, and he feels that the world is still inadequately prepared for a pandemic, and has already lost valuable time in making such preparations.

Like both sides in our discussion, he would like to see the world spend a lot more money on basic health services in the developing world. He also recommends more funding for vaccine research, a point that I don't remember being made in our previous discussion (perhaps only because it wasn't made be me), but that certainly sounds like a good idea, too.


Intrepid Liberal Journal said...

Agreed. I think like terrorism this is a lot of fear mongering. But just like terrorism, we're not doing anything effective to address the cause of disease in the world. And if there is some truth to the possibility of an epidemic, why should anyone have any confidence that the chucklheads currently in power would exhibit any competence in dealing with it?

christian_left said...

Nature is complex and unpredictable, and surely no one can convincingly prove that a pandemic flu outbreak is either certain to happen or completely hyped up. Even if the likelihood seems relatively low over the next several years, as I believe it is (pulling a figure out of my gut, perhaps 15-20%?), I still think that it is worthwhile to prepare seriously for a pandemic flu outbreak--not by panic buying of tamiflu (I haven't) but by supporting the build-up of basic public health infrastructure, as this post suggets, especially in the poorer countries of the world. We would also do well to consider what each of us would do if there were massive disruptions to worldwide food and energy supply chains. As the first commenter suggests, we can't anticipate any competence in leading this process from the current U.S. government, based on their previous failures. However, state and local governments, as well as private organizations, can certainly do what they can to learn about and prepare for a possible outbreak, as indeed many hospitals, companies, and cities are. My only caution is that Progressives not simply dismiss this issue as fear mongering by the Republicans, as in the case of terrorism, which of course has some legitimate basis as well but is willfully blown much more out of proportion by Bush et al.