Decades of progress have not solved flu

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 7, 2005

Eighty-seven years is a long time. In the last 87 years, science and technology has grown leaps and bounds. In that time, mankind's understanding of the world has grown exponentially.

Yet despite all of the advances, in some ways we haven't progressed nearly as much as we might think.

Today, one of the most deadly threats to humanity is virtually as unchecked and misunderstood as it was 87 years ago.

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In 1918, a pandemic of Spanish flu killed 50 million people worldwide.

Just to put that in perspective, if you took all of the residents in Ohio and all the residents in California, you'd still be a few million shy of 50 million.

To say the 1918 flu outbreak was an awful time in the world history would be a massive understatement. The Spanish flu pandemic spread quickly around the world.

And just think, that was before air travel could move people - and their viruses - around the world in a day's time.

In today's world, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak could claim two or three times as many victims. And, more important, in our increasingly global village, a deadly flu outbreak could race around the world almost overnight.

Ironically, as the fear of terrorism drives our national policy and the collective fear of our nation, perhaps the biggest threat we face remains the uncontrollable mysteries of Mother Nature.

The most feared strain of flu now threatening the world's health is a strain of bird flu called H5N1.

If the flu were to erupt into a pandemic tomorrow, the world isn't prepared.

&#8221If the avian flu were to hit here, it would be like having a Category 5 viral hurricane hit every single state simultaneously. We're not ready for that,“ said Shelley Hearne, director of the nonprofit Trust for America's Health.

We know that such a pandemic could easily wipe out vast segments of the world's population, but we have not invested enough in possible vaccinations. If it hits soon, our nation only has a fraction of the vaccines necessary to fully protect its citizens.

That's a shame and proof that our priorities need to be refocused a bit. In 87 years, you'd think we would have learned that valuable lesson.