Obama’s First 100 Days : Now a Piggy Pandemic?

Graphic by Larry Ray / The Rag Blog.

The implications of a global flu pandemic superimposed upon the USA at this point in our history are staggering.

By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / April 26, 2009

As President Obama’s first 100 days draw to a close, another potentially deadly challenge has been added to the myriad complex problems he has been thoughtfully working his way through. Identified as “Swine Flu” or the N1H1 flu virus, it has a potential to become a global flu pandemic.

Starting out already waist-deep in the mess passed along by Mssrs. Bush and Cheney including wars in the Middle East, America’s battered international image, and an economic nightmare, Mr. Obama has nonetheless gotten high marks for his leadership and action. But the implications of a global flu pandemic superimposed upon the USA at this point in our history are staggering.

I read John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza” a few years ago. Barry meticulously details the “Spanish Flu” of 1918. His finely researched narrative left me astounded at the far-reaching damage a ravaging pandemic can cause. It is generally agreed that a flu outbreak on a Kansas farm originating from farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas who quickly spread the disease to other soldiers headed for the WWI front in Europe.

It became known as the Spanish Flu because Spain was one of the only countries left with a free press and they reported on the panic with detailed accounts of how those infected bled from the nose and ears and turned blue from lack of oxygen. Helpless victims suffered aches saying they felt like their bones being broken. Death came quickly. The rampaging pandemic killed more people in one year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century. A third of the world’s population were infected and worldwide deaths are estimated at between 50 and 100 million.

In the United States, as troops mustered in huge cantonment camps across the nation preparing to ship out to the war in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson, a conservative Democrat and religious fundamentalist, clamped down on press freedom. Citing patriotism and the need to keep Americans on a righteous and patriotic path, he personally prevented even a mention of the raging flu. A public health official in Philadelphia even allowed young soldiers to mingle with the public during a parade. The bureaucrat noted that, “It is not patriotic to establish guidelines to protect the civilian public.” Whole ships, loaded with sick and contagious troops were sent on to Europe rather than admit openly that there was a problem. They were aptly called “death ships” with most of the troops dead or wretchedly ill as they arrived in European ports.

The mass movement of people to and across Europe hastened the spread of the virulent flu. In the USA, people were most infectious to others during the days before they experienced any symptoms themselves. Conservatively, some 10% of those who came down with the flu died. In the fall and winter of 1918 more people died from influenza than from any other pandemic before or since.

This Sunday afternoon, unlike Woodrow Wilson, the White House declared a “public health emergency” and the center for disease control announced, “We expect to see more cases of swine flu. As we continue to look for cases, I expect we’re going to find them.”

Politics remain at play as the seriousness of the current swine flu outbreak is assessed. The World Health Organization is taking its characteristic cautious stance calling the present flu outbreak in Mexico that has already killed 80 and infected another 1,800, “a public health emergency of international concern.” The W.H.O. is holding off till Tuesday to announce if it will raise the threat level. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, deputy director general of the W.H.O. is reported to have said, “Raising the threat to level 4 “would be a very serious signal that countries ought to be dusting off pandemic plans.”

So, here we are at the early, early stages of a strain of flu that seems to have developed in pigs and birds, mutated into a unique virus that is now being transmitted directly from human to human. Mexico seems to be the originating point. Already milder cases are being reported and identified across America and cases are now being reported in Canada.

We have learned a great deal about combating pandemics, and have new medicines and vaccines that were nonexistent in 1918. But it is sobering to realize that by the early 1990s, 75 years of research had failed to answer a most basic question about the 1918 pandemic: why was it so fatal? In recent years we have made some progress, but there are still lots of unanswered questions.

Today human fear and uncertainty remain pretty basic. A growing number of Americans are already barely living on the edge following loss of jobs, homes, savings, and face health care that is out of reach because of lack of insurance. America’s vulnerability to a sweeping killer flu pandemic is doubly frightening today because so many families are already terribly weakened from the results of another endemic disease . . . greed.

Fat greed that grew and mutated while the host banks and financial giants flourished. Then just like in some farmyard in Mexico the greed genes intermingled, mutated and became toxic. We are already fighting the results of a pandemic of unregulated greed. Now real swine instead of figurative pigs once again spawn a physically life-sapping virus.

If ever there was a need for cool, serious and effective leadership and consensus, it is today. This also is a chance for detached conservative Republicans to get over their loss at the polls, and instead of throwing tepid tea parties, to come together and join in positive action to see America safely through what could be even tougher times ahead.

Swine flu is non partisan.

[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

The Rag Blog

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5 Responses to Obama’s First 100 Days : Now a Piggy Pandemic?

  1. Maybe should have put lipstick on all the pigs; I’ll start wearing mine since I’m sick with the flu’ (smile).

  2. Mariann says:

    So does anyone besides me think it “odd” that a strain of flu involving two types of known human influenza AND swine flu AND avian flu has surfaced for THE FIRST TIME EVER right now???

    Do the words “genetic engineering” ring any bells??

    C’mon, really, we’ve all known the potential for such a thing has existed for quite some time, but suddenly this fails to cross the minds of the media or health authorities?

    Holy crap, and they call ME “Pollyanna”!!!

  3. I got an e-mail today from a friend in California. She says she thinks it’s just a scare to help out the likes of Baxter who apparently makes the medication that’s being recommeded to be used in this issue. She says it’s very convenient ‘right now’, to establish this fear and allow Baxter to make money that it otherwise wouldn’t make.

    Since I don’t know that much about Baxter, but do know that this morning they did give me the injection as a ‘precaution’ since they can’t determine for certain if it’s the swine flu’ I have, or not.

    Makes a person wonder…..

    Anyway, if you get the symptoms like I had/have, you’ll feel so darned tired; sore throat – fever, nausea, and vomitting. I did lots of sleeping; drinking lots of juice and broth – not much eating……

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see – could just be more media hype since they jump on everthing they think will get viewership.

  4. I found the article my friend in California was referring to – here’s part of it:

    What started as a buzz late last week has grown into full-on shrieking as this year’s SARS has stepped up to the plate. With confirmed cases coming in from all over the country – including two in Kansas – the panic over the swine flu is rising. Which is fair enough: so far, 100 people are reported to have died in Mexico from the disease and it seems to be spreading fast. The threat of a pandemic even has the European Union urging cancellation of “nonessential travel” to North America.

    Locally, the panic is also settling in. This morning on CBS 2’s site, the main headline screamed, “Public Warned Swine Flu Coming To Chicago.” And, indeed, with two specimens from Indiana being tested for the disease, there’s certainly reason for concern, though it should be pointed out that the number of cases reported in the U.S. right now stands somewhere between 12 and 20, depending on which media outlet you believe, and all of the cases have been much more mild than the cases in Mexico. That hasn’t stopped the U.S. from declaring a “Health Emergency”, which entails various levels of government preparing for an outbreak much like they prepare for hurricanes (though we know how well that can turn out).

    Locally, there’s a Deerfield-based company interested in trying to find a vaccine to battle the Swine Flu. WGN Radio reports on Baxter International, a company that previously worked on a vaccine for bird flu.

    Baxter spokesman Chris Bona says the recent outbreak in Mexico has the company working with the World Health Organization to come up with a vaccine. “It’s done toward potentially developing an experimental vaccine. Just to be clear and not overstate expectations and where we’re at, we’ve just requested a sample for lab testing at this point.”
    Bona says upon learning about the outbreak, the company asked the World Health Organization for a virus sample in order to do lab testing. He says Baxter has patented technology that allows the company to develop vaccines in half the time it usually takes – about 13 weeks instead of 26.

  5. Mexiflu says:

    It is this kind of half-informed speculation that feeds all sorts of nonsensical conspiracy theories. Worse is the all-day, all-night cable TV speculation by the daytime dames who have perfect hair, but are a little to the left of the IQ bell curve, and have turned “news” into little more than beauty-shop gossip and speculation. Baxter is but one of a number of vaccine producers who may be pressed into service if this current N1H1 flu mutates further and enters a second and more deadly phase. I suggest you take a little time to Google “1918 Pandemic.” The facts are lots more frightening than the shallow speculation from what someone heard on a radio station, or read in an email.

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