Pandemics, Fear of Pandemics, and Education 

Pandemics, Fear of Pandemics, and Education

Is it just faintly, ever so slightly possible, that Bush is fomenting fear of a flu pandemic in order to drive up his poll numbers?

Glenn Reynolds posted part of an e-mail he received a couple of weeks ago:

As a medical researcher, I want to make a gentle but sincere plea to the blogosphere to calm down this flu hysteria just a bit. The main way that flu kills is by predisposing its victims to "superinfection" by bacterial illnesses - in 1918, we had no antibiotics for these superimposed infections, but now we have plenty. Such superinfections, and the transmittal of flu itself, were aided tremendously by the crowded conditions and poor sanitation of the early 20th century - these are currently vastly improved as well. Flu hits the elderly the hardest, but the "elderly" today are healthier, stronger, and better nourished than ever before. Our medical infrastructure is vastly better off, ranging from simple things like oxygen and sterile i.v. fluids, not readily available in 1918, to complex technologies such as respirators and dialysis. Should we be concerned? Sure, better safe than sorry, and concerns about publishing the sequence are worth discussing. Should we panic? No - my apologies to the fearmongers, but we will never see another 1918.

Patrick Cunningham M.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Section of Nephrology
University of Chicago

Reynolds goes on to say: maybe this is true; it would still be worse in the Third World than the first; and there may be another, more dangerous pandemic, so we better be prepared.

Never say die, Glenn. I presume he means somebody must have ended up with Saddam's biological WMDs--somebody nasty, like Saddam.

Here's Reynolds on Bush's amazing long answer to a question on avian flu. Bush talks about avian flu--nothing else--makes it clear he's read a book on the subject, and refers to the possibility of quarantine and the use of troops. Oh good. The military option again; loosening the ligaments of the law a bit. I think someone responded by saying quarantine would make an epidemic worse, since the troops would be travelling in and out of infected areas.

Part of what impresses me here is that Bush spoke at some length, without a lot of notes, more or less eloquently. He had read about this, and he cares about it. Out of all his public appearances, is this the first time he has given any real sign of having read anything at all? The Bible? Anything about the Constitution, or any previous president? History?

The person from Mars would never guess, listening to him, at either the BA from Yale or the MBA from Harvard. In a way this is a tribute to his efforts. He has laboured to turn himself into an ordinary guy from Texas, more likeable than his old man. His doing so was somewhat contrary to what his parents wanted, and contrary to what his education would lead you to expect. So it must have been a considerable, sustained effort, carried out with some intelligence.

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