The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 never occupied the popular imagination, or has it’s place within the media, in the way it should have after the horrifying plague stopped as suddenly as it had started in the year or so after WW I. It is only in the last decade or two, after SARS and other bird flu scares that it’s ghost has been revived and the disease that claimed so many lives began to take it’s place alongside the bubonic and other plagues that devastated Europe centuries ago and have been part of popular culture ever since. With the Spanish flu, which killed up to 5% of the world’s population, there seems to have been a roaring silence in the years that followed. Had the Influenza virus continued it’s progression for another year, the effects on the world’s population can only be imagined. Even then, in an era of slower and less frequent communication, it was impossible to stop. And today with the legal and logistical difficulties of imposing quarantines of any kind it seems, a horrifying but relatively focused outbreak of Ebola is now spreading case by case around Africa and to America and Europe, and perhaps elsewhere.

What can be done to prevent Ebola’s spread? Maybe a reasonable period of isolation for any health care worker who was exposed to a patient would be a good idea? Instead of climbing aboard a cruise liner in Galveston? So far the worker on the cruise ship is under self-imposed isolation and is self-monitoring her temperature and shows no signs of the disease. How reassuring. What is it like to know that your folks or your aunt or some loved one or close friend is on that liner? And do you give them a big hug when they arrive back home to let them know you still love them? Any policy of pandemic containment runs up against our egotistical habits, as well as concerns that a strict quarantine would tank the local economy in which it is imposed. So what does the CDC do? Perhaps worrying less about causing “panic” and providing as much information and warnings as the evidence suggests is necessary. I suspect most people would prefer that than a tardy admission that Ebola, or any virulent infectious disease, is already here. And maybe less centralization in one headquarters in Atlanta would help. And finally, the CDC is also a warehouse if you will, of deadly plagues that have or rare occasion been sent to at-the-time allies like Iraq. The organization clearly has a double role – in part to enable response strategies to any attempt at biological warfare by an enemy state or rogue group – as both defender against and provider of deadly plagues. Perhaps the double role is unavoidable in today’s world of terrorist threats, but one hopes the CDC is always painfully aware of what color hat they are wearing and that they don’t mix roles up. Being a little more forthcoming might help.

Comments