We've been blogging about avian flu and the threat of a pandemic here and at Daily Kos for over a year. In that time, concerns have gone from fringe awareness to mainstream. The internets have done their part, with flu boggers leading the way.
This week seems to have been a turning point, perhaps because of the cluster of unrelated cases in Indonesia. In addition to the National Geographic cover story, PBS covered pandemic flu in the opening of the series Wide Angle, and yesterday the Senate weighed in, passing a 3.9 billion pandemic flu amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill, capped off with a joint Frist-Reid apprearance on Nightline. All this is competing with some meaty political stories but still getting play, and this morning the AP reports:
GENEVA -- The U.N. health agency on Friday said it was impossible to estimate how many people may would die from a new influenza pandemic, adding that it has warned countries to prepare for a death toll of up to 7.4 million.
"We think that this is the most reasoned position," said World Health Organization spokesman Dick Thompson, warning that "you could pick almost any number."
While some still downplay the risks, it's clear this isn't all hype and stage lighting. The political and medical community are gearing up for a major prevention effort, which has to start with education.
We at Flu Wiki are part of that process. We are cooperating with multiple web sites to promote Pandemic Flu Awareness Week Oct 3-9. And as to predicting the risks, that can't be done. But Katrina taught us that uncommon things still happen, they just hapen uncommonly. The risk of getting struck by lightning is one in six million, yet it's still foolish to play golf or swim in the midst of a thunderstorm.
We don't all need to turn survivalist today, but educating ourselves about the potential risks and keeping up with the news is a prudent thing to do. Some preparation efforts will serve you in a hurricane, a blizzard, a blackout or an earthquake. The difference with pandemic flu is that everyone is affected, and that's another thing to keep in mind (you can't expect huge amounts of help from a neighbor state).
Certainly there's more information to come, and seemingly much more 'official' news from the feds. In the meantime, keep informed, and use the internets to its best advantage. No one can predict where and when a pandemic starts, but right now, all eyes are on Indonesia. As impossible as it seems, low probabability is not the same as no probability. How else would insurance companies make a living?