As to MRSA, federally-supported research is still at the mouse level. Fortunately, two private companies, Nabi Pharmaceuticals and Merck & Co., have begun testing such vaccines on humans. But get this. The Nabi program is "on hold for further clinical development pending partnership or external funding of the program."
And just what threat do the three mass-hysteria diseases pose? Ebola is so hard to transmit that it’s killed nobody outside of two African countries. That said, the disease has been the subject of best-selling books like "The Hot Zone" and a film in which the virus threatens to the entire U.S. Do Hollywood and the best-seller lists influence the government funding decisions? You bet.
SARS infected only 27 Americans, killing none. Worldwide, it killed 774 people between its discovery in late 2002 and mid-2003, when it simply disappeared. SARS caused deaths in 11 countries. Yet during the disease's short life, between just two newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, there were over 850 articles — more than one article per death.
Does the press influence the government's decisions? You bet.
Yet H5N1 has killed no Americans. Even worldwide so far this year H5N1 as of November 18 has caused only 72 infections and claimed 48 lives, isolated in seven countries where poultry farming involves regular exposure to bird intestines and feces. Those cases and deaths are occurring at a lower rate this year than the previous two years.
Granted, most of the fear is not over what H5N1 is currently doing but rather what it might do if it became pandemic either by mutating in just the right way or combining in just the right way with seasonal flu in a person or an animal carrying both viruses.
In fact, all of the recorded worldwide recorded deaths from Ebola, SARS, and avian flu to date combined — 2,621 — are fewer than the number of Americans who die of MRSA every two months. MRSA also annually kills more Americans than AIDS, yet the federal AIDS research budget is over 13 times larger than that for the whole field of antimicrobial resistance.
There is no perfect formula for funding disease research. But letting panic-mongers in the press, government, and even Hollywood influence the decisions is clearly wrong. We need a government that pays more attention to medical statistics than to headlines. The one we have now is killing us.
Michael Fumento is a, journalist, and attorney specializing in science and health issues as well as author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World .
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