Do you remember the Great Bird Flu scare of 2005-2006?
· “A leading scientist warned yesterday that the avian flu virus is on the point of mutating into a pandemic disease and says that current estimates that such a pandemic could cause 7.5m deaths may understate the threat. According to the WHO, within a few months of the pandemic 30 million people would need to be hospitalised, and a quarter could be expected to die.”-- The Guardian, 5/26/05
There was no need to worry, though; because (then) President Bush read a 546 page book (or so the legend goes) about the 1918 “Spanish flu” outbreak during one of his extended vacations, and he returned to Washington with a plan to make a preemptive strike on the Bird flu before it could attack the Homeland (USA TODAY, 10/10/05) ...and if all the talk about Bird Flu happened to divert the media’s attention from his incompetent response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster--so much the better.
Now, all the Bush Administration needed to do was make Americans afraid of a disease that had killed only 65 people on the other side of the world (from direct contact with diseased birds) and had shown no indication of person-to-person transmission.
No problem. If they could spin a case for war out of non-existent WMDs and threats of mushroom clouds, it should be easy to scare Americans with a disease that threatens to kill anyone and everyone--besides; they had the full support of the pharmaceutical industry.
So they rolled out their new product: a deadly Bird Flu Pandemic:
· The likelihood of a human flu pandemic is very high, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt warned Monday as he sought Southeast Asian cooperation to combat the spread of bird flu.”--AP, 11/11/05
· “...If such an outbreak occurred, hospitals would become overwhelmed, riots would engulf vaccination clinics, and even power and food would be in short supply...”--The New York Times, 10/7/05
· “...David Nabarro, the recently-appointed senior United Nations system coordinator for avian and human influenza, told the media Thursday that deaths from bird flu could reach into the hundreds of millions.”--ABC News, 9/5/05
· “Short of thermonuclear war, I have a hard time imagining anything in my lifetime that would be as horrible,”--Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, ABC News, 11/1/05
Those were scary times. Do you remember how Bush’s Great Bird Flu Pandemic turned out?
According to the WHO (4/23/09), there have been a total of 257 confirmed deaths resulting from Avian (Bird) Flu since 2003. To put that figure into perspective: More than 1,170 people died from lighting strikes in 2003; more than 750,000 children died of malaria in 2006; and the ordinary seasonal flu kills about 36,000 Americans each year.
Now we find ourselves in the midst of another deadly pandemic--the Swine Flu; ...and we are hearing the same kind of dire predictions:
· “The question now is not whether people will die [of the Swine Flu], but whether it will be thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands.”--Robert Madelin, the European commission’s most senior health official, The Sunday Times, 5/3/09