April 30, 2006, from the Detroit Free Press editors
Don’t panic. But do pay attention. Bird flu may never transform into a human-borne illness, let alone a worldwide pandemic — but if it does, knowledge and preparation will make the difference between hard times and outright catastrophe.
…But bird flu has the world’s attention, because it has had a 55% mortality rate. It is “a very impressive disease,” Eden Wells, Michigan’s influenza epidemiologist, said last week.
The toll on birds has been phenomenal — 200 million killed, the United Nations estimates. Since the start of the year, the virus has spread to birds in 30 more countries, from a count of 15 at the end of 2005. It is a question of when, not if, migrating birds will carry it to North America.
So this is a threat well worth preparing for. Even if this strain of bird flu, H5N1, never transforms so it can spread from human to human, someday some virus will. Many health experts suggest a global pandemic is overdue. Just imagine coping with:
# 40% absenteeism rates. This is based on 25% of workers getting sick — comparable to the rate in the 1918 flu pandemic — and another 15% staying home to care for ill family members or just too scared to leave the house….
The state needs to get more insistent that local health and safety officials pull their plans together, with broad networking among businesses, schools and community organizations as well. People should know so much about bird flu plans that they’re bored with all the talk, but ready for the changes a pandemic would entail. Better to be sick of preparing than unprepared for sickness.