Harley L. Sachs 5/4/09
If you think the government has been asleep at the switch regarding a pandemic, be reassured. This year, Michigans Office of Public Health Preparedness and the Michigan Department of Community Health mailed an insert to businesses around the state about an expected pandemic.
Ive written about pandemics before, primarily in my thriller Scratchout! in which a terrorist group tries to kill everyone in the USA with a biological warfare agent. The reason why such a weapon is not used is that it is uncontrollable once it gets loose and causes a pandemic. Its like the poison gas used by the Germans in World War I. If the wind changes, it blows back in your face.
Swine flu is not a biological warfare agent, but it could be a pandemic, as in the sudden outbreak of an epidemic that affects a broad area, ranging from a region to the entire world.
A pandemic, of course, is one of the worst public health fears. It was a pandemic of smallpox, measles and other European imports brought ashore by Spanish invaders that wiped out the Aztec civilization of Mexico. Now, with air travel, the Swine flu can sweep the world like the Black Death that in the 14th century wiped out whole cities and killed one-third of the people living in Europe.
The Spanish flu that swept the world at the end of World War I killed more people than the war did -- an estimated 4o million to 100 million people. The Spanish flu was so swift that a person could be healthy in the morning and dead in the afternoon.
The response to the Swine flu pandemic is similar to what we did in the 1950s. During the polio epidemic we shut down swimming pools and movie theaters, and kept people afraid of public exposure until the Salk vaccine was developed.
It was a surprise to get the health warning from the State of Michigan. I hadnt seen anything like that health notice since the 1960s when every town had designated fallout shelters complete with supplies of crackers, candy, and tampons. We were given a handbook on how to build a family shelter in case of nuclear war. Kids in school were drilled to duck and cover. That was before Chernobyl, of course, which demonstrated that a fallout shelter is useless. The persistent radioactivity makes a region uninhabitable. Get out or die.
Now we are in the midst of a level 5 flu pandemic. If you want to read the details of Michigans plans to deal with it on every level, you can learn visit www.plandemicflu.com or www.michigan.gov/flu. Businesses are instructed to set up an emergency preparedness plan.
The State lists 11 issues to prepare for, including:
designate a pandemic coordinator or team
identify essential employees, materials, etc.
set up and update emergency communications
prepare for employee absences
make a policy for flexible worksites
evaluate employee access to public health services
encourage hygiene practices, etc.
Details are available at www.michigan.gov/prepare.
The prophylactic procedure to avoid the Swine flu is similar to that of last years norovirus, an extremely contagious but not often fatal intestinal bug that had everyone washing hands frequently and wiping down surfaces with bleachy water. It was near panic.
As long as kids in school havent experienced any cases, schools will remain open. The Swine flu is not as dangerous as the Spanish flu of 1918. But this pandemic should serve as a warning. Sooner or later something even worse is bound to emerge. Consider this emergency as a warm-up so you will be ready.