Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Chicken Little Says: "Ah-CHOO!"

The "Bird Flu" problem has bubbled to the top of the national consciousness, finally, like a cheap champagne uncorked two months after New Year's Eve. If we watch enough of the breathless coverage it is sure to give us a collective hangover. Scientists and medical people have been trying to inject this issue into public discourse since 2004, but so far no one has given a hoot, except possibly the Chik-Fil-A spokecows. ("Click, Clack, Moo. We may be in trouble here.") After virtually ignoring the story for most of the year, the news media has apparently declared October National Bird Flu Coverage Month. In the past week every medical person from Dr. Doolittle to Dr. Dre has weighed in on the bird flu's implications for humanity. Tom Cruise allegedly thinks it is all in the heads of over-reacting Asians. The Last Samurai is suggesting they buck up and take a Scientology class! Kidding. He actually thinks it's all in the head of an overly dramatic Brooke Shields. After taking samples and analyzing the voluminous amount of medical hot air expended on the subject, I've come to a couple rock solid conclusios: 1) There is nothing to worry about, and 2) We're all DOOMED. Now that we have that cleared up, let's take a closer look at H5N1 (a.k.a. High Five No One). An "expert" on one of the cable news shows said the term "bird flu" is really a misnomer because ALL influenzas orginate with birds. So it's like calling the sniffles an "upper respiratory infection cold," or referring to a "multi-car traffic jam" or even a "dead cadaver." (As distinguished from life-of-the-party cadavers such as Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's.) Of course with my extensive non-medical background I was able to meander through the mists of my memories and conjure the question: "What about the SWINE flu?" That was the global health disaster we narrowly averted in the early 1980s (I think) after millions of Americans got inoculated against a virus that, uh, decided to call in sick. Apparently it preferred its swine hosts to any human ones. How do the bird flu experts explain THAT? I think I know the answer, and it probably has something to do with pigs flying over a frozen hell. You're probably wondering what Joe Average Person is supposed to do once bird flu becomes a public health issue in the U.S. Actually, it would be up to Jane Average to do something, since Joe will resolutely use up every box of tissues in the house while insisting he isn't sick, and wouldn't dream of consulting a medical professional just because he had blurred vision and a temp of 105. Anyway, Jor-El Q. Public (so named in honor of Superman's biological father, and actor Nicolas Cage's to-be-pitied infant son) is supposed to do one of the following: 1) Demand from your doctor a prescription for Tamiflu, the virus-fighting medication, or 2) Nothing According to experts (which we seem to have a surplus of), both of those treatment methods are equally effective. At this point those medical people in the "alarmist" camp are suggesting that the population of the earth is, proverbially speaking, up a creek without a needle. We face a global pandemic on the order of the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed an estimated 40-50 million people worldwide. What, you're wondering, is the difference between your garden variety "epidemic," and the worrisome possibility of a "pandemic?" As any self-respecting etymologist will tell you, "epi" means BAD, and "pan" means WORSE. "Demic" is simply a suffix that means "for you-all." Right now all the overseas vaccine companies are working round-the-clock to ensure we will have a big enough supply to meet the expected demand once people start dropping dead at work, in grocery stores, and in line while waiting to gas up. The vaccine companies are all overseas because the local drug companies got tired of having their pants sued off them and gave up on the vaccine market after being ticketed for Indecent Exposure by the FDA. (liability risk is also considered "exposure" so that really works on two levels!) What is the likelihood of you being able to get this life-saving vaccine? According to "experts" your odds are: 1) Slim, to 2) None Yes, more bad news. But not totally! Because on a different channel I heard an "expert" who assured viewers that the vaccine was NOT going to work, anyway, so people would be developing sore arms for nothing. Plus they will be 50 percent more likely to let commuters cough in their faces, mistakenly thinking the vaccine offers "protection." I would share more of my extensive knowledge of the upcoming Global PanEpidemic, but I have a feeling this story is going to have "legs," and I will get to write about the social implications of everyone having to wear those masks everywhere they go. And what this will mean for our terrorism profiling pastime. We all got some good practice with SARS a couple years ago, so we should definitely be ready for this one now that we know FEMA is going to be in charge of the federal response to Hurricane Bird Flu.


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