Heads in the Sand

Society has a selective memory when it comes to history. Or perhaps some events just have more eye-popping names. For example, the influenza pandemic that ripped around the globe in just one year (1918–1919) killed more people than four years of the infamous Bubonic Plague. Responsible for the deaths of between 20 million and 40 million people, “La Grippe” took more lives than World War I. And while it may not have yet received much mainstream notice, the candidate most likely to cause the next global flu pandemic is waiting in the wings, so to speak.

The warnings about avian flu have been building, but little attention has been paid by the mass media. Back in January 2004, the World Health Organization threw its weight behind fears of avian flu. Though WHO pointed towards the Southeast Asia region as potentially under a “serious threat,” it was only a few months later that Ottawa “ordered the slaughter of 80 per cent of the farm poultry in B.C. in an attempt to contain an outbreak of avian flu.”

Though “experts agree that another influenza pandemic is inevitable,” President Bush has yet to address the issue. Considering his handling of this past year’s flu shot shortage, citizens are understandably wary about how he will handle this growing threat, for which we have no vaccine, even though it could potentially kill 70 million people. When the new secretary of Health and Human Services comes into his position, it is imperative that bio-preparedness be on the list of priorities, just as the outgoing secretary realized in hindsight that it should have been on his own.