Sunday, October 23, 2005

Controlling our fears

China says it will shut its borders to keep human bird flu in, while most other countries are making plans to keep bird flu out. Nice ideas. Neither will likely work.

Australia is drawing up plans which include large quarantine stations in airplane hangers to isolate planeloads of people if bird flu appears among them in flight. They are also planning to use thermal sensors to detect fever in incoming passengers. A news report I saw recently (but can't find the link) says the US Senate will ask the Department of Transportation for something similar. This was tried with SARS, a much easier disease to control in this fashion because it isn't at its peak of contagion until late in the disease. Every expert says it didn't work for SARS and it certainly won't work for influenza where people are contagious before the onset of symptoms and signs.

It is inevitable that these kinds of restrictions will come into play if a pandemic is starting. It is just as inevitable they will be costly and will fail. It isn't even sure they will slow things up much. This is apparently an obligatory response that can't be stopped. But it shouldn't also prevent us from beginning the kind of community mobilization that will really make a difference in managing the consequences of a pandemic, should one come.

Pulling up the drawbridge and community mobilization, unfortunately, are polar opposites. One is based on fleeing our neighbor. The other on neighbor helping neighbor. We will just have to get used to the idea that both are basic survival impulses and we will have to manage our instincts as well as manage the consequences of a pandemic.

Visit The Flu Wiki for more.