Preparedness Or The Incubation Of Fear?
“All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.”
~ Leviticus 13:46
November 2007 – Overseas, increasing numbers of people are hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. Some of the cases are confirmed as H5N1, the avian flu, with some of the health care workers contacting the illness, thereby indicating that the virus has attained the ability to spread from human to human. By mid-December, 2007, it becomes apparent that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) containment zone is ineffective and that the anti-virals that have been developed are unsuccessful. In February of 2008, the virus has spread unhindered throughout China, Indonesia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East…and now cases begin appearing in California with an estimated four weeks until it is spread across the country.
Thankfully, none of this has actually occurred…yet. It is a scenario from a functional exercise titled Armageddon Flu: West Central Ohio Region Pandemic Influenza Exercise which was conducted in February of 2008 by over a hundred and sixty-six agencies spanning eight counties in West Central Ohio. This was the second year that this type of exercise was held. Even the local video news agencies did their part, recording “live” news updates updating the “players” about local and national situations (see videos here)
During a recent interview, Larry Cleek, Medical Reserve Corp (MRC) County Coordinator, gave me an abridged version of what the first year’s scenario consisted of.
“In 2007,” he said, “we did a build up where the first ‘play’ date, we had the initial ‘cases’ in the region and then each subsequent week, it got heavier and heavier until all the hospitals were inundated and had to provide a medical surge and they couldn’t handle the influx of what was coming in.”
The focus of the 2008 exercise changed from being in the middle of an ongoing situation to giving the agencies time to plan, prepare and stockpile provisions and then to see if they had the clarity of foresight that they thought they did.
“Pretty much, we took feedback we received in 2007 and we got a lot of answers from some people saying, ‘Well, if I would have had more time because I knew that it was coming, I would have done this, this and this.’” Mr. Cleek detailed. “In 2008, we kind of went in a different route where the first day was, ‘It’s a month away (the pandemic outbreak). It’s starting to spread over Asia and parts of Europe and it’s going to be here in less than a month. What are you going to do in preparation of its arrival?’ The second ‘play’ day, we had, ‘It’s hit West Central Ohio. Did you prepare up to what you wanted to?’ On the third ‘play’ day, we did a whole recovery phase where the wave has gone through and, ‘How are you recovering from this in preparation for the second wave of this that might come?’”
With the public being recently inundated with disturbingly sinister sounding radio and television commercials that detail the pandemics that have been occurred in the past, ending with the tag line of “it will happen again” leaves some feeling slightly uneasy. In recent press releases, Bret Atkins, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health, stated that the ads were stark and edgy to get people’s attention and that, with federal money quickly drying up, preparation for a pandemic flu outbreak will fade. With the tenor and the frequency of the advertisements, it seems to walk the fine line between inoculation and indoctrination.
One of the aspects that may go against such an awareness push seems to lie in the sheer number of avian flu related deaths. The Center For Disease Control’s (CDC) website states that as of June 19th, 2008, there have only been 385 cases of avian flu confirmed in the world over a five year period. Deaths related to Multidrug Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) were estimated at 18,650 for 2005 in the United States alone, thus possibly surpassing the number of deaths from AIDS. Why then is the focus of the Ohio Pandemic Flu website (www.ohiopandemicflu.gov) as well as the national PandemicFlu.gov (with its mirror site, AvianFlu.gov) specifically about avian flu (H5N1) to the exclusion of any other potential pandemic pathogens? I consulted with Sara Morman, another spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Health, and received this answer; an answer which was extremely similar to the answer I received from Larry Cleek a week earlier.
“Well, I believe that’s because the greatest threat at the moment is from the H5N1 virus circulating overseas and they have had human cases.” Sara said from her Columbus office. “It has not yet achieved the ability to be transmitted easily from person to person. The H5N1 virus is the one that scientists are keeping their eye on of the next potential pandemic flu strain.”
While the avian flu carries a high mortality rate (around 53%), the infinitesimal amount of currently confirmed cases cannot be construed by the average person as being an immediate threat. After the echo from the Public Service Announcement’s warning of an imminent pandemic begin to fade and the number of visitors to the pandemic websites wane, could the state and national health organizations find that they have made a error in judgment? By presenting to the people a specific scenario that, for all intents and purposes, is negligible and distant to most Americans, after the initial curiosity and fear passes, the thought of a pandemic will go the way of the infamous “terrorist threat levels.” Again: Why specifically avian flu? What if the avian flu pandemic that is envisioned by the scientists and health officials doesn’t occur? Will all this training and preparation be transferable to battle another threat that has as yet to be seen?
“Yes, and you’re looking at a pandemic of any type, so that’s the main premise; you’re preparing for a pandemic.” Larry Cleek asserted. “It doesn’t have to be influenza. It could be something else that popped up. The other thing is that it ties in with other biological related things. You’ve seen Outbreak with Ebola and that type of thing, so if something like that did happen, all of this planning is going to cover those biological areas.” As an aside, he went on, “Let me bring up something else really quickly; in regards to smallpox or anthrax or those types of things, at least we’ve got a vaccine for those. The biggest thing with a Pan-Flu or a flu related item is that it will take six to eight months for us to get a vaccine to fight that specific item, so that’s probably the biggest difference. Because you can’t make a vaccine for it until it’s here and you know what you’re dealing with.”
Sara Morman, who stated that she was not that familiar with the logisitcs of the pandemic exercises held around the state, replied with an answer pertaining to the website and subsequent materials produced and/or distributed by the Ohio Department of Health.
“Well, that is one of the things that we stress in our printed material to remind people that preparing for a pandemic, whether for a strain of H5N1 or another strain, will help them be prepared for any emergency.” Sara Morman said. “So, it is something that we stress more in our printed material, but is probably stressed a little less on the website.”
“Avian Flu: is it a pandemic? No. Basically, in the last century, you’ve had three pandemics; in 1918, in 1957 and 1968. 1918 was really the only severe one. There were milder forms of it in ’57 and ’68 and in the eighteen hundreds, there are three other pandemics that are registered, or historically identified. Basically, the big influx is, they say we’re due for one.”
Perhaps I’m being obtuse with regards to the number of cases of avian flu and its potential severity. Perhaps there are things about mutations with regards to influenza that I can’t even begin to understand, yet I know that, as is common in human nature, if one keeps repeatedly hearing the cries of “Fire!” and yet no flames are ever seen, people tend to turn a deaf ear to the warnings. Yet, maybe the answer to my question is held within the responses that were already given to me.
“And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.”
~ Numbers 16:48
For the complete West Central Ohio Region Pandemic Flu Excercise 2008 scenarios, go to http://www.schlorman.com/aflu/