The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Forgotten Enemy

The October issue of Socialist Viewpoint includes a troubling piece by US Marxist historian Mike Davis on Avian flu.
Ironically, in our ‘culture of fear’ - with Ashcroft and Ridge ceaselessly ranting that the terrorist apocalypse is nigh - the least attention is given to the threat that is truly most threatening.

On September 14, Dr. Shigeru Omi, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for the western Pacific, tried to shake complacency with an urgent warning that human-to-human transmission of avian flu was a 'high possibility.'

Two weeks later (28 September), grim-faced Thai officials revealed that the dreaded viral leap had already occurred. A young mother, who had died on September 20, most likely had contracted virus directly from her dying child.

A crucial threshold has been crossed. Of course, as Thai officials hastened to point out, one isolated case doesn’t make a pandemic. Human-to-human avian flu would need a certain critical mass, a minimum initial incidence, before it could begin to decimate the world.

The precedent always invoked to illustrate how this might happen is the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: the single greatest mortality event in human history. In only 24 weeks, a deadly avian flu strain killed from 2 to 5 per cent of humanity (50 to 100 million people - including 675,000 Americans) from the Aleutians to Patagonia.

But some researchers worry that H5N1 is actually an even more deadly threat than H1N1 (the 1918 virus).
We've all read about the flu menace, of course, but this article is a stark summary. And it raises a curious question. Why is it that 'the single greatest mortality event in human history', which took place within living memory, has left no discernible trace therein? No doubt you've read about the 1918 pandemic - but have you ever heard about it?


Post a Comment