Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bush Reads A Book On The Deadliest Plague In History

Has Bird Flu Escaped From A Bio Research Lab In Flood Devastated New Orleans?

By Darryl Mason.

GW Bush is not known for being a big reader. If you’re thinking of ‘My Pet Goat’ on the morning of September 11, remember that was being read to him by a school kid while the US was under savage attack by jet-hijacking freedom haters.

But things have changed. The White House issued a short statement a few weeks ago to inform the media that GW Bush was spending the longest holiday in US presidential history catching up on some light reading.

Not ‘My Pet Goat II’ but a weighty tome entitled ‘The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History.’

So what’s it about? ‘The Great Influenza’ details the stunning impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic that swept the globe from 1918-1919, and explains how the death toll of 60 to 100 million people changed society and politics across the planet.

There was little warning before the Spanish Flu hit. Unlike most flu epidemics this one killed without discrimination. It laid waste to infants, old people, healthy young men.

If you caught it, you could die within a couple of days, there was no cure. Back then, they didn't even know what was killing millions was an actual virus, they thought it was bacteria.

The book describes how doctors, hospitals, morgues and graveyards were overwhelmed by the endless casualties. It cited the US city of Philadelphia as one example where 5000 people died in a week. Mass rioting broke out, whole streets full of cramped dwellings were torched and corpses were piled in mounds a dozen bodies high. They were tossed into carts and transported to mass burial sites.

In some European cities, entire towns were burned to the ground, with the dying still in their homes, to try and contain the spread of Spanish Flu. Ships were torched in harbours before passengers could get to land. The author of ‘The Great Influenza’ described how ships still at sea were blocked from entering ports and became “floating caskets.”

The flu virus originated in animals but mutated quickly and crossed over into humans. Exactly the scenario now forcing the World Health Organisation to make claims that the threat of a bird flu pandemic in humans was not a case of If but When.

Some details of the book make for uncomfortable reading today, and no doubt GW Bush had some sleepless nights as he worked his way through its pages.

The global conditions that encouraged the spread of the Spanish Flu have some striking parallels to our own time.

Of particular significance were the overcrowded military, refugee and evacuee camps of World War I that gave the virus plenty of bodies in which to thrive through the last days of that war.

For today’s world, think of Iraq’s ‘Green Zone’, the post-Katrina camps and shelters across 20 US states and the numerous trailer parks filled with millions across Africa.

Massive troop deployments also encouraged the spread of Spanish flu, as the rotations of troops through Iraq and Afghanistan would encourage a pandemic to spread further, farther, if it were to break out today.

A lack of capable medical facilities, vaccine and a shortage of doctors and nurses also helped the 1918-19 death toll to move into the tens of millions. There are few countries in the world today that can honestly claim to have a universal public health system that could cope with a bird flu pandemic.

Australia’s health minister Tony Abbott doesn’t even try to deny that the death toll would be enormous and that there is little his government can do to help those infected.

Then, as now, the sick will be quarantined in their homes and left to die.

In Australia the Spanish Flu killed an estimated 20,000 people out of a population of four million, and that was in the days when interstate travel was virtually unheard of for the majority of people.

Incredibly, hundreds of young Australian men who had survived the incomprehensible horrors of World War I returned home only to catch the flu and then, quickly, die.

In Australia, schools, churches, concert halls, theatres, train stations, public squares, pubs, were all locked down. Farms, factories and city business districts ground to a halt as people fled to the country to escape the pandemic. They only succeeded in transporting the virus to rural Australia, where it killed as effortlessly as it had in heavily populated city centres.

Two weeks ago, GW Bush returned from his holiday reading to find his country awash with at least 300,000 people crowded into camps and shelters across some 20 states. He has already declared a State of Emergency that encompasses more than two thirds of the US, and some 80,000 troops and support crews (including deployments from Mexico, Canada and Israel) are on the ground in at least four states smashed by Hurricane Katrina.

New deployments of National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan are being cut back, soldiers are being recalled from the war zones and the Department of Defence is calling for at least 3000 volunteers from within their civilian ranks to deal with an unspecified ‘crisis’ in the homeland.

In Q & As with journalists as he toured the Hurricane Katrina disaster zones, Bush made reference to “a possible avian flu pandemic” and how the US would cope with such an outbreak. He was short on details.

Finally, in the days following Hurricane Katrina, the US Centre For Disease Control issued guidelines on how the many bioresearch labs and facilities in the Katrina disaster zones should go about reporting lost, damaged, compromised or stolen ‘stock’.

One such bioresearch facility in central New Orleans is located on the campus of Tulane University. The facility was flooded. Amongst the active bio-agents listed in its ‘stockpile’ that have been possibly lost, damaged, compromised or stolen was avian influenza.

No comments: