Risk of a Viral Pandemic
The war in Iraq is doing more than wasting human lives and vast sums of money and goodwill for the United States around the world. As the quagmire of Iraq deepens, other issues affecting the vital health and economic well-being of our citizens are being ignored by the Bush Administration. The costs of this neglect will be monumental.
The latest addition to the growing list of ignored problems is the
mounting concern over the risk of a viral pandemic in China spreading
to the U. S. While the White House focuses on Iraq, physicians and
scientists at the Center for Disease Control see a growing risk of the
viral pandemic spreading to the United States.
Much on the minds
of these health officials is the memory of the Spanish influenza of
1918-1919, which spread to the United States and around the world with
the loss of 40 million lives. More recently we have experienced the
Asian flu epidemic of 1957-1958 and the Hong Kong strain of flu in
The latest alarm about a viral pandemic in China was
sounded this week by a veteran New York Times reporter, Keith Bradsher,
who reported that Chinese health officials have found what he described
as a “lethal strain of avian influenza among pigs at several farms, a
discovery that could move the virus a step closer to becoming a
potentially deadly problem for people.”
The danger is that once
pigs are infected with both bird strains and human strains of
influenza, the genes can mix and produce a new virus that transcends
human immunity. As the Times’ Bradsher reported, it is still not known
whether the detected flu virus was living and reproducing in
quarantined pigs and whether it is passing from pig to pig. But, if
this happens, it would be a big step closer to a contagious disaster.
this week, the World Health Organization released a report by a
researcher from China’s Harbin Veterinary Research Institute citing
initial evidence that pigs from farms in parts of China have been
infected with what is described as the “H5N1 strain” of avian
influenza. The report was part of an international symposium on SARS
and avian influenza in Beijing.
Scientists at the Centers for
Disease Control are aware that there are not nearly enough viral
specialists and testing capabilities in China nor enough American
infectious disease scientists stationed in China working with the
Chinese authorities to develop an accurate early alert system.
the American people and the people in the rest of the world should not
have to wait until disaster strikes. The time to act is now, not after
the a pandemic is here. That’s both medical and common sense if we want
to protect the people.
President Bush, despite being distracted
by the growing disaster that is Iraq, needs to immediately call a
conference on influenza—a conference that will alert the international
community to the urgency of the problem.
In a letter I told the
President that such a conference is “required to highlight
internationally the immediate need of assigning adequate resources in
funds and skills to foresee and forestall such looming threats to the
health of millions of people here and around the world.”
told the President, these human and material resources, activated by an
international conference, would have the capability to develop vaccines
and other preventative measures to limit the mortality and morbidity.
is a sad commentary that there has not already been action on the issue
by the White House despite the concentration on war and the aftermath
of war in Iraq. President Bush endangers the well being of not only the
American people, but also the world when he does not immediately
respond to such threats to health.
It is certain that the White
House over the past three years has been put on notice about the
growing risk of a viral pandemic. Certainly such alerts from China have
come to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the National
Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and in turn, transmitted to
the White House. But this is not enough to move a President who
apparently feels that his presidency should rise or fall solely on the
success or failure of his adventure in Iraq.
should remember that these mutating viruses are not like human
villains. He needs to recognize that their indiscriminate destruction
of innocent civilians can be considered a form of deadly viral
Over and over again, the President has told the
American people that the safety of every American is his highest
priority. The Administration’s regulatory non-enforcement belies this
assertion. His response to the threat of a viral pandemic in coming
weeks will go a long way in demonstrating just how serious he is when
he tells us “safety of every American is my highest priority.”