Preparing for Pandemics
Preparing for Pandemics
The first draft of this chapter was written before the pandemic alert for the 2009 flu was launched. Since then, terms such as swine flu, Mexican flu, or H1N1 were constantly in the headlines. We witnessed the first really worldwide outbreak of a new influenza strain. Events went faster than we foresaw in our original text. We had started the chapter with an imaginary scenario of an outbreak in 2013 not in Mexico but in the East Java, Indonesia, city of Malang. It was not really meant as a prediction but merely a little story to show the consequences of an outbreak. We wanted to show how disruptive the outbreak of a new disease might be. We described all the things that we are now familiar with: doctors who aren’t particularly worried in the beginning; people that live close to their animals and pick up viruses; patients in hospitals with high fever and severe cough; pharmaceutical companies anxious to peddle expensive vaccines. Then we invented some struggle between the Indonesian authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) about blood samples. That reflects the reluctance of developing nations to cooperate in the production of vaccines they can never afford. In our story, the rest of the world ignored this imaginary outbreak and was oblivious to the rising death toll and the diplomatic wrangling. That’s just like the start of the 2009 flu that probably haunted Mexican villages for many weeks unreported. In our story, the silence was broken when two nurses died in Perth, Australia. The media seized on the story immediately with yelling headlines. In the week that followed, dozens of new cases were reported in Indonesia, Australia, and Singapore, together with the first suspected case in New York. Then there follows all the health humdrum that we are now so familiar with. The WHO has got hold of the flu virus and is preparing to produce a new vaccine. However, the epidemic spreads like an oil slick with the virus striking one major city after another. Antivirals change hands over the Internet for huge sums despite doctors’ warnings that the drugs only work if administered within a few hours of infection.
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