Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Avian Flu at phase 3; 1918 quarantines were somewhat effective


A report by David Brown in the December 13, 2006 The Washington Post, "1918 Flu Epidemic Teaching Valuable Lessons: Actions Taken Apparently Were Effective", at this link,
itself based on new data presented at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, suggests that the stringent public health measures taken in 1918 to close schools and public gatherings, require masks and excluding people who coughed from theaters (as shown in Peter Jennings's book The Century) may have been more effective in controlling the mortality rate that previously thought.

This kind of a finding is important, because large scale quarantines and closings could have devestating social and ecnomic effects in urban areas, and cause major rethinking of what we call "family values". This is indeed "an inconvenient truth," which was exaggerated in the TV film this spring from ABC, "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America". I have correspondence from Congressman Jim Moran on this and it is not that reassuring. The link for these letters is here.

There is an interesting comparison to HIV in the 1980s, where public health officials had to repeatedly reassure the public that it could not be casually transmitted, despite wild speculations from the religious right, sometimes from the media shows ("there's always a first time!") and even a careless remark in 1983 from NIH reported in Randy Shilts's book "And the Band Played On". (There were some speculations in Robert Gallo's 1989 book "Virus Hunting".)

There is also an interesting comparison with other horrifying bloodborn viruses like Ebola and Marburg (Robert Preston's "The Hot Zone"). There is an Ebola epidemic among gorillas in Africa, and there was a scare in 1989 about "Ebola Reston."

The CDC's site is pandemicflu.gov and that has a link to a World Health Organization (WHO) site that considers us at Phase 3 ("No or very limited human-to-human transmission, link here.)

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