Thursday, May 7, 2009

H1 N1 - "Hogtied" in Japan!

Is it my imagination wondering off on a tangent again or did I just land in the middle of some 1960's weird Scifi movie scene?

It all started when we landed in Japan. We were advised that all people aboard the airplane must be examined by the Japanese Quarantine staff before we would be allowed to leave the airplane. The more frightening news that eventually seeped through was that if any person was found to be sick, all the people in close proximity of this person would be quarantined (hogtied) as well until they could determine the nature of the illness by testing each person individually. Additionally, rumor had it that this process could take about 1 1/2 hours to execute.

Egad! Don't these guys know I've got stuff to do? After all, I've got blogs to read and posts to write.

So there I sat watching these characters dressed in Hazmat suits query the passengers around me. I casually reached into my bag and pulled out my camera. "Snap!"

Wow! I actually got away with taking a picture. The thought crossed my mind that they might become irritated with me and haul me off on G.P.. But no, they really didn't seem to care.

Snap! Snap!

I think I figured out the system. First a team of examiners comes by and reads your health form. We were required to fill out a form describing our state of health just before landing. Then, another individual comes by with a device that looks like some sort of rejected prop from a Star Trek episode. It 's a large squarish item that looks like a camera on steroids. Apparently, it zapps a thermal ray off your forehead and instantly reads your temperature. Those that register a high temperature are immediately shackled and led off to the dungeon to await their fate.

Oh, it's my turn......

"Maa'm, I'd prefer the rectal thermometer please."

"Sorry, no understand English very well."


Oh well, lost in translation - Again! Not even a smile. Not that I could see it under the mask and goggles anyway! At least I'm not going to quarantine jail!

They issued me a piece of paper... "Medical Clearance paper." came the mumbled statement from behind the masked figure.

Awesome! My get out of jail free card! I'm rocking and rolling and outa here .......

Turns out this entire process only took about 30 minutes. Not too bad actually. But it did give me a few minutes to really ponder this whole swine flu/H1 N1 thing. Is this really a legitimate concern I wondered? Let me see, approximately 36,000 people died from the "regular" flu last winter. So far, according to the WHO -
In this same period, Mexico alone, has reported 1112 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 42 deaths. The United States has reported 896 laboratory confirmed human cases, including two deaths.
Now I'm curious. These numbers don't seem to be adding up. My thinking is, the reported cases are the people that are really sick. So how many people have actually been exposed to this virus and not gotten sick? This must be a pretty large number. And there seems to be a disproportionate rate of death in Mexico. What gives?

So I did a little bit of reading around the WHO site particularly this paragraph on influenza pandemic:

A disease epidemic occurs when there are more cases of that disease than normal. A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic of a disease. An influenza pandemic may occur when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity. With the increase in global transport, as well as urbanization and overcrowded conditions in some areas, epidemics due to a new influenza virus are likely to take hold around the world, and become a pandemic faster than before. WHO has defined the phases of a pandemic to provide a global framework to aid countries in pandemic preparedness and response planning. Pandemics can be either mild or severe in the illness and death they cause, and the severity of a pandemic can change over the course of that pandemic.

My eyes really opened when I read this paragraph:

In the past, influenza pandemics have resulted in increased death and disease and great social disruption. In the 20th century, the most severe influenza pandemic occurred in 1918-1919 and caused an estimated 40 to 50 million deaths world wide. Current epidemiological models project that a pandemic could result in two to 7.4 million deaths globally.
If an influenza pandemic were to occur today, we could expect the virus to spread rapidly due to the interconnected nature of the world and the high level of global travel.
If the pandemic evolved to become severe and widespread over time, we could also expect:
vaccines, antiviral agents and antibiotics to treat secondary infections to be in high demand, and potentially in short supply;
medical facilities to be strained with demands to care for both influenza and non-influenza patients;
potentially significant shortages of personnel to provide essential community services.
Effective pandemic preparedness around the world is essential to mitigate the effects of a pandemic, particularly if it becomes severe.

Okay, now it's time to digest all of this information. My initial take is - Why are we investing all of these resources in what seems to be a relatively insignificant event? Naturally I'm sensitive to those family members of people who have died due to complications surrounding any flu. Certainly I don't suggest that it's an insignificant event in their lives. But why are all the governments around the world so mobilized with respect to this particular flu when thousands of deaths are occurring around the globe each day as a result many different causes? What about Wars, Hunger, Crime, AIDS/HIV, Drug addiction, Cancer, and Traffic accidents.......? Don't these issues merit some consideration? Why can't/haven't the governments of concerned nations come together to try to mitigate any of these causes? My gut feeling is- Maybe we're the swines. Fat, dumb, and happy. Perhaps we're the chickens of the "avian flu" all being led off to slaughter.

In a conspiracy theory, and more sinister sort of a way, maybe "They" know more than we do. Maybe this is all an "Operational Test" for something that's brewing underground. Think about it. What if a terrorist group acquired a means to manufacture a synthetic flu virus? Wouldn't the nations of the world be better prepared to deal with the treatment and containment of such a virus having gone through this exercise?

Yikes! Now I'm really scared! No more thinking today!

I'm off to get in a work-out, a Scotch, and dinner!

Make that a double Scotch!


Jane Turley said...

Interesting to see how the authorities are handling the outbreak at ground level in the airports etc. It may seem an over reaction but I find it reassuring. I haven't booked our hols and I must admit I'm a little nervous because being a sceptic I think it's likely some countries won't be entirely honest about the number of victims, particularly where tourism is a large part of the economy.

Every household in the UK has just received an information pamphlet which indicates how serious this matter is being taken over here. Whilst our government drives me up the wall we are pretty good in a crisis. It easy to twist statistics anyway you wish though...all depends what you record on the death certificate. For example, I have a friend whose father who caught MRSA in hosptal and ended up having both legs amputated. He never recovered and died from pneumonia which was recorded as the cause of death. Hmm...

I suppose things haven't been as bad as first expected although I've read that a first wave of a such a virus is usually followed by a second and third wave which are usually more virulent which is worrying. Maybe the intervening period will be long enough to produce a vaccine. Who knows.

Well I love conspiracy theories! And I'll believe any wild theory. (I've read too many Robin Cook novels) But scientists have been talking about this for ages, I guess it's looking like the real worry is whether it merges with Bird flu and then we may be in a lot more trouble. Maybe we will learn from this which help us be better prepared.

You're right though, in the scheme of other world wide problems currently the expenditure does seem disproportionate. No easy answers on that one - I think everyone, especially governments, need to ask themselves why matters such as poverty, famine and even global warming do not have such a high profile. Hmm...self interest springs to mind...

As always it will be the poorer countries who will suffer more with this outbreak. I'm sure the impact of the 1918 pandemic was multiplied by the world wide problems at that time - poor health, migration, lack of facilities etc resulting from The Great War. Luckily, this time we are in a much better position to prevent such a global catastrophe.

So what did you have for dinner? Sushi? You haven't done a food post for a while...I'm having cookie/choccy withdrawal symptom!

Tamera said...

Well, and there's a lot of people that really don't understand it all. They just see very few affected/dead, and chalk it up to media hype...but, it does have to do with new and unknown viruses....and, these levels have to do with the level of preparedness...meaning that health professionals and institutions (globally) are on alert, and needed resources (that may possibly be needed) are out for distribution case, because we usually don't know the outcome before hand...actually, no one should expect any authority or health professionals to KNOW it either. We are only human....but you can be sure that if worst case scenario had ever hit hard, and no alert status was initiated-and no one prepared...and it got out of control..well, THEN!! All hell would break loose, and authorities would be held accountable, bla, bla, bla....

Chris said...

30 minutes for some great blog fodder? TOTALLY WORTH IT! Well, to your readers, anyway. :)

Heather Dugan (Footsteps) said...

My thinking on this is similar to Tamera's. A lack of proper measured responses could have been cause for great regret (and blame).
And yes, you thought it was a plane to Japan, but you actually wandered onto a sci-fi movie set. They decided to keep you on as an extra because a certain Ms. T alerted them that you'd work for chocolate and scotch.

Jane Turley said...

Yeah, that's right Heather. I heard you can get him real cheap! One glass of scotch and a nibble of choccy and he's anyones!