Wednesday, April 13, 2005

World Health Organization worries about H2N2 virus causing influenza pandemic

When Celeste starts to feel a flu coming on she tries to psyche it out. She repeats three times throughout the day, “I will not get sick.” Sometimes, after a few days of this healing practice she announces that she beat it. Most of the time after a few days I’m getting out the humidifier, heating up the chicken soup, stocking up on cough drops and Nyquil, and looking forward to my own round with the bug for we share everything.

Why do I tell you this? Well, it might be the only defense that many of us, myself included, have against a potential pandemic influenza virus that is threatening the world. Something stewed up in the poverty stricken villages of central China or in one of those nasties that we hear about coming from a chicken coop in Vietnam? No, this isn’t a new pestilence, the oft predicted avian flu pandemic; it’s one we’ve known about for at least 50 years, probably much longer.

Emma Ross with the AP reports that the World Health Organization (WHOops) announced that Meridian Bioscience Inc. near Cincinnati has shipped out strains of a previously isolated virus to almost 5000 labs. Most are in the US but many aren’t, vials were sent to eighteen countries altogether.

This strain caused epidemics for many years and the virus caused a pandemic in 1957 that killed 1 to 4 million people. Klaus Stohr, the WHOops influenza chief or the Big Sneeze, says that the decision was “unwise” and “unfortunate.”


If we’re familiar with this bug then why worry about it? Well, the vaccine hasn’t been included in flu shots since 1968. Anybody born later, like me, has no immunity whatsoever against it. And we know from the flu shot shortage last year that it takes time for inoculations to be prepared. I guess somebody decided in 1969 that enough’s enough and the bug had been defeated. Plus, they probably told themselves, nobody would be stupid enough to ship this out to 18 countries.

Rest assured, though. The folks that made the mistake are rushing to rectify it. They are working to destroy the vials and don’t expect that this will spread. Given their track record I’m certainly reassured.

My prediction? If no one gets sick, this small article on the last page of section A of our local paper will be the last I hear of this. If somebody does get sick, then we’ll worry about it. In the meantime it’d be better to spend time doing things like wringing our hands over Terri Schiavo or calling special Congressional hearings over steroid drug use among professional ball players than trying to do something to prevent this kind of mistake in the future.

If the word pandemic doesn’t make your blood run cold, if just for a second, either it already got you or you’re a politician worried about the latest public opinion polls.

It probably will blow over but in case it doesn’t, remember Celeste’s cure: “I will not get sick, I will not get sick, I will not…” It might be your only defense.

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