succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Flu

The Bad News - Between December '03 and January 4, '06 there have been 142 documented cases of the H5N1 flu strain, 74 of whom died. That's a case-fatality rate of over 50%. During the 1918 flu pandemic (which killed millions) that rate was 2.5%. The Good News - the current case-fatality rate is likely wildly overestimated, because there's no systematic monitoring of mild and asymptomatic cases. Still, it hardly bodes well. More bad news - 900 million is the estimated worldwide capacity for vaccine production. Which is a far cry from the 6.5 billion world population. Also, if/when the pandemic strikes, it's expected to last 2 years. Meanwhile companies figure it will take 6 months from the first declaration of pandemic to the first available vaccine dose. Also, 70% of all flu vaccines are currently produced in Europe. And we haven't exactly been making nice in a way that makes them likely to share.

What I, in my humble opinion, think we (the government and public health community) need to do:
1) promise to purchase x doses of flu vaccine, regardless of whether the public actually ends up using them (one of the reasons we don't currently have a reliable vaccine supply is that we've refused to do this, so companies aren't exactly lining up to produce a product we won't promise to pay for in case the pandemic doesn't actually occur)
2) start a serious PR campaign. Separate from freaking out the public about impending doom, we need to actually lay out what may happen - specifically, the need for quarantining and the closing of airports and other borders. It's the only way to control the spread, and we need to prepare people for that. It won't work, but people might freak out slightly less if they've been given a heads up and provided with an explanation of why quarantine is so critical.

I'm sure there are lots of other things, but those are the two foremost in my mind, and which I haven't heard much about.


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