Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Sky Is Falling...
We're all dead. We're all going to achieve that death, after a prolonged agony, the sort of Biblical death reserved for the truly ungodly and evil. We'll all be walking bags of mucuous, puss and infected blood, completely covered in festering boils, each with our own retinue of swarming flies and stray cats that will feast upon our putrid flesh after we collapse. There will be so many of us dead that there will be no one left to bury us and our rotting corpses will be left to be stripped by the ants and our bones bleached in the sun.

Welcome to this dire scenario--- brought to you by the makers of the Avian Flu.

Every few years, it seems, we're told that there is a new and deadly disease that will eventually destroy mankind in the kind of Cecil B. DeMille pandemic that makes the Bubonic Plague look like a picnic or the Ebola Virus seem to be a mere inconvenience. The closer we get to this "pandemic" the more vile and distressing the descriptions of the carnage become. In the end, we never see the dreadful results predicted by the "medical experts" who by then have a new disease to champion.

In recent years, we've all been under threat from AIDS, SARS, and Mad Cow, to name the ones that got the most media attention. There is an "epidemic" of obesity. Imagine that; we've invented a disease (obesity) that three quarters of the planet would love to suffer from --- chronic overeating --- and turned it into something that supposed to be absolutely devestating, capable depopulating entire continents.

When AIDS first surfaced in the 1980's,for example, it was pre-supposed that everyone would eventually get it and die a horrible death. Part of this hysteria was due to the politics of the disease itself, which was initially limited to the gay community who made a great deal of noise about it, but who preferred that it not be identified as "gay" disease for political purposes. And let's face it, if anyone knows how to create a ruckus, it's a sick (as in not-feeling-very-well) homosexual, and 100,000 of them (for example) all making the same racket is something one cannot hope to contend with easily.

The issue with Avian flu and SARS and AIDS and a whole host of other diseases-that-get-no-media-attention is not that they will wipe out huge swathes of humanity in the developed world (except maybe Canada, where the first SARS case went unreported until 60+ people died because no one wanted to cast a bad light on a) Red China and b) Immigrants). It's that they will do so in the so-called Third or Emerging-world, and that prospect tugs at the heartstrings of of people who show up at "Stop Hunger Now" hors douvres parties.

As of this writing, if we are to believe the figures that have been posted in various places, approximately 70 people, world-wide, have been acknowledged as having died from Avian flu. More people die each day crossing the street in Germany. More people die every day from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the United States. More Britons will meet their maker because of defective lawn darts. As I write this, another few hundred people in Africa have just died of malaria or leprosy. Two years ago, 20,000 people died in France from lack of air conditioning (I guess your typical Frenchman is too lazy to find shade and cold water as well)The threat to the West is largely minimal because of the excellent level and number of health care facilities (for both treatment and research) available to us, by our generally healthier diets and by climate. There are not going to be huge piles of rotting corpses in the streets of New York due to influenza, avian-type or not.

There will be huge numbers of said rotting bodies in China, Vietnam, Tibet, Korea, Cambodia, Thailand. These are regions where medical science is stagnated or completely unknown.

The nightmare scenario is that avian flu will manage to mutate into something capable of being passed from person-to-person instead of from chicken-feces-to-person, and then we'll all be in deep doo-doo. Or will we? What makes this particular strain of influenza more deadly than the ones we have right now? Is it more resistant to medication? No one seems to know, and if they are, they aren't telling. Is it, say, 3 times as nasty as regular flu? Again, no information available that I could find. It could be that Nyquil works just as well on this flu as it does on the older ones. If so, I doubt we'll be reading stories about a pandemic that'll make the Black Death look like a Scout jamboree.

But I have no doubt whatsoever that we'll continue to read news reports and watch newscasts about the deadly danger lurking in the poultry section of your local supermarket. Why? Because hysteria sells, that's why.

Look, I do not object to anyone informing the public of a serious threat to our health. I'd damn well kill anyone who sat on such information and I knew about it. But let's be realistic --- we're not talking gi-normous numbers of deaths here, and very little in the way of factual information put forward in a way that the common man can digest. There is a lot of scary talk and that's about it.

By the way, does this mean that chicken soup is no longer the suggested remedy?

* Two days after this was drafted, a news report emerged that the avain flu resembles in many inportant ways, a strain that was first reportedly known in Scotland, circa 1954, almost down to the last sticky strand of DNA. Sorry, but I have misplaced th elink to this story. Should I find it again, I will come back and repost it.