Deadly Avian Flu

Deadly avian flu. Over the last week, that phrase or one like it has made a splash in headlines and on the evening news. The intent is to create, if not panic, then deep concern about an impending, worldwide wave of disease. A pandemic. The Spanish flu of 1918 that killed tens of millions is often held up to us as a stark reminder of how serious this threat is.

What purpose is served by this campaign of fear? To alert us to the need for vaccination against this deadly strain of influenza. And to alert us to the inadequacies in our public health preparation for this coming plague, preparations not only in the United States but throughout the world. Especially Asia, where this killer flu originates.

Let us pause for a moment in our panic and ask what “deadly avian flu” means.

The influenza virus infects many animals. Only a few types affect humans. Those that do affect humans first appear in wild birds that infect domestic birds. The virus can, but does not always mutate so that it becomes a human influenza. When it does, it jumps ship from domestic birds to people. All new kinds of flu originate this way. And it seems to happen mostly in Asia.

The deadliness of the virus depends on our immune system. A new variation of the virus has more impact because it is unknown to our immune system. In other words, your body has to fight harder to get rid of the virus. People with weak immune systems are most likely to be infected, get sick, or die. Either from the flu itself or from some opportunistic infection, usually pneumonia.

Let’s pause again and remind ourselves of how a flu moves through a population.

Only some people will be exposed to the virus. Of those exposed, only some will be infected. Of those infected, only some will get sick. And of those who get sick, only some will die. Despite the headlines, getting this flu is not a death sentence. And also despite the headlines, this flu isn’t about vaccination, it’s about your whole immune response and what you can do at each stage along this path that will protect you.

What’s covered in both conventional and progressive media is lack of government preparedness and all the problems with vaccines and anti-flu drugs. No one on the left seems to be able to think outside this box. Outside the box is support for your immune system, reducing exposures, minimizing the risk of infection if you are exposed, and taking care of yourself if you get sick, including not exposing other people.

Let us pause finally to remember the economics that is involved here. I don’t mean especially the economics of the vaccine trade. I’m thinking of poverty as breeding compromised immune systems. I’m thinking of poverty in those developing countries that health officials worry about as the source of the pandemic of deadly avian flu. I’m thinking about the poverty in this country that makes people vulnerable to exposure, infection, sickness, and death from flu, avian or otherwise.

I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we are not powerless, either individually or collectively, in facing the wave of disease that is expected to wash over us. Despite the headlines.

The issues in this article are developed (with references) in issue #9 of the Progressive Health Observer in the article titled “Avian Flu Roundup” and in issue #6 in the article titled “Flu Vaccines.”
Related resources are available on the Immunity, Infections, and Allergies page.