Call me Maskman. You might come up with worse names before we’re finished.
I’m starting this blog tonight because I’m scared. Sure, I fear my writing will suck and you’ll all think I’m a moron. That goes without saying.
I’m much more worried that we’re all going to die because the last new flu that hit the U.S. laid an egg that still stinks. Americans no longer believe influenza can kill anyone but old folks—and maybe a few younger people crossed by bad luck, as if they got hit-and-run by a drunken virion. After swine flu’s flop, who respects influenza?
There’s a distant quality to the TV reports about H5N1‘s global spread, as if the problem were some volcano in Sumatra. Images are scarce, unaffecting. Nothing reads: Crisis!
Sure, the talking heads mention that mutated bird flu probably showed its teeth in New York today, after weeks of false alarms. They say it may have killed a yet-to-be-identified bus driver, but add that there’s no proof we face a pandemic. We see video of the early alarm in 2009, when a New York high school erupted in swine flu when some kids brought it back from Mexico. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are holding lots of meetings, urging calm in more and more places. Ho-hum. What’s for dinner?
The stock market went down hard but recovered. Big-time traders don’t ride buses.
I hear that eyewitnesses in Bushwick said the driver hacked up blood all over his windshield before crashing into a bodega. And that half-a-dozen other people are said to be lying in rotten condition in hospitals all over town, apparently quarantined as likely avian flu victims.
My neighbors aren’t impressed. New Yorkers do more damage to each other on quiet evenings. I can already hear lusty students from Happy Hour U marching down Avenue B to a chorus of shrieks. The guy downstairs is bawling out his boyfriend’s sister. This always excites the Doberman next door.
What would it take for a microbe to impress these busy, urbane souls?
This disease-of-the-week thing is old. Since 9/11 we’ve seen (more like: heard about) West Nile virus, SARS, the original, dreaded H5N1 bird flu, untreatable TBX tuberculosis, MRSA, dengue fever, and swine flu. Someone dusted midtown Manhattan with what the government claims was its own anthrax. So why should Gothamites care about some remix of a flopped avian flu that scared everyone silly in 2006 and then flew around afflicting (mostly) Egyptians and Indonesians?
Because this one’s a Category 5 hurricane. Welcome to the Ninth Ward, folks. (You do remember New Orleans, right? Katrina…?)
I’m already watching conspiracy theories pop up all over the Web. The social networks are abuzz with cynical comments and theories. Most people who think flu is dangerous seem convinced it’s a man-made microbe. Others think it’s an overblown fraud. One way or the other, immigrants, pharmaceutical companies, Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, gays, and the United Nations are all suspected of duping us.
Doesn’t anyone respect nature around here? Not all catastrophes are caused by humans.
We have to challenge this attitude—and not because the government says so. We must speak out because H5N1 avian pandemic flu has everything the Great Pandemic Flu of 1918 had and more. It’s transmitting more easily every day and it looks to be able to kill a greater percentage of people more horribly than any influenza ever recorded. Far more than anyone ever predicted swine flu would kill. As shown in the movie, Awakenings, survivors can sustain nerve damage, even develop Parkinson’s Disease.
Here’s the problem. The so-called swine flu that surfaced in the U.S. and Mexico to cause such a stir in 2009 had a remarkable pedigree: It contained genes from birds, pigs, and humans. Before it faded in a backwash of popular annoyance and ennui, novel H1N1 left the world a monstrous memento.
True to its nickname, swine flu managed to get into Indonesia’s pig population. There it encountered H5N1, the incredibly nasty bird flu that loved to get into mammals but was having a hard time getting humans to pass it to each other.
Nature doesn’t care about irony. It’s just a coincidence that pigs in a Muslim country hooked up the two flu viruses. Those who accuse ‘Muslim bioterrorists’ of cooking up this contagion are ignoring that experts warned in 2009 that Novel H1N1 and H5N1 might join forces.
After H1N1 gave up some vital genetic snippets—presumably through a process known as reassortment—H5N1 took to killing more Indonesians. Then Vietnamese. It popped up in Hong Kong, as it has done intermittently since 1997. In the last month mutated avian flu has struck four continents, killed at least 100 people. Some cases already show signs of picking up immunity to Tamiflu—the primary antiviral medicine in the world’s flu arsenal. While H5N1 learns how to infect us, we’re learning that mankind drew all the wrong lessons from swine flu.
This is no time to be smug. Sure, I’ve got a lifetime supply of personal protection gear, which I sell on this site. I can’t prove it makes much difference if we wear professional-grade masks, goggles, and gloves. (Experts in and out of the government are downright confused.) I wear it.
I got into this line of work because I was scared and wanted to fight this disease. By the time the threat is formally recognized, H5N1 will be upon us. It’s already here, where I live. Coming soon to your ‘hood. Get ready.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot! Welcome to my blog. I haven’t ever done this. Be kind.
I invite you to visit the flu bloggers and news sources I rely on. Most have been reporting and analyzing viral developments for many years. We’re lucky to be entering this crisis with so many seasoned commentators at hand. I’m the no-name rookie.