‘Pandemic,’ not ‘Duck and Cover’

The Geopolitics of Pandemics
May 4, 2009 |

by George Friedman Stratfor

WHO level 5 Panic reaction

This panic had three elements. The first related to the global nature of this disease, given that flus spread easily and modern transportation flows mean containment is impossible. Second, there were concerns (including our own) that this flu would have a high mortality rate. And third, the panic centered on the mere fact that this disease was the flu.

News of this new strain triggered memories of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, sparking fears that the “Spanish flu” that struck at the end of World War I would be repeated. In addition, the scare over avian flu created a sense of foreboding about influenza — a sense that a catastrophic outbreak was imminent.

By midweek, the disease was being reported around the world. It became clear that the disease was spreading, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Phase 5 pandemic alert. A Phase 5 alert (the last step before a pandemic is actually, officially declared, a step that may be taken within the next couple of days) means that a global pandemic is imminent, and that the virus has proved capable of sustained human-to-human transmission and infecting geographically disparate populations. But this is not a measure of lethality, only communicability, and pandemics are not limited to the deadliest diseases.

‘Pandemic,’ not ‘Duck and Cover’

To the medical mind, the word “pandemic” denotes a disease occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population. The term in no way addresses the underlying seriousness of the disease in the sense of its wider impact on society. The problem is that most people are not physicians. When the WHO convenes a press conference carried by every network in the world, the declaration of a level 5 pandemic connotes global calamity, even as statements from experts — and governments around the world — attempt to walk the line between calming public fears and preparing for the worst.

The reason to prepare for the worst was because this was a pandemic with an extremely unclear prognosis, and about which reliable information was in short supply.

A good analysis worth to read entirely.

Snowy Owl

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