Jennifer Biddison

The media makes a lot of money trying to scare people. Reports of shark attacks, global warming and other impending disasters are frequently blown out of proportion.  Even coverage of real threats like SARS is hyped to nearly unbelievable levels. So when the news stories about “bird flu” started flooding in, most Americans probably tuned them out and assumed there was nothing to worry about.

But when the experts grow concerned, Americans start to take notice. Take the work of the team at Tech Central Station on the avian flu, for example. Those who usually spend their days debunking “junk science” are not scoffing this time; they are calling for action. Noting the cycles of deadly flu in world history, TCS columnist James Pinkerton acknowledges that “it could be that the bird flu is the Next Big Nothing. But since we know that history has a way of repeating itself, it’s a cinch that we have calamitous epidemics in our future, as we did in our past.”

TCS editor Nick Schulz is using the momentum created by President Bush’s recent comments about bird flu to press forward for long-term solutions.  “Stung by criticism over the unpreparedness of government at all levels to address Hurricane Katrina,” he wrote two weeks ago, “President Bush has been taking steps to make sure another disaster doesn’t embarrass his administration.” Just as Katrina exposed how the levees in New Orleans hadn’t been properly protected, Schulz hopes that the avian flu threat will illustrate how American anti-business policies have slowly eroded our ability to combat new health threats.

According to Henry I. Miller of the Hoover Institution, the H5N1 strain already has two of the three characteristics of a pandemic: it can jump from birds to humans, and it can cause a very serious – even fatal – illness.  If the strain evolves into one that is highly contagious among humans, a pandemic may very well occur.

In an age of technology and innovation, Americans rarely have to worry about illnesses spreading uncontrollably. However, there is no vaccine for this new flu strain, and nothing is coming down the pike either. There is only one anti-flu drug that has proven to prevent some cases of the H5N1 strain: Tamiflu, distributed by the Swiss drug company Roche.