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Behind The News

Why All This Panic Over A Seasonal Flu Bug?

By James Donahue

Americans endure influenza on a regular basis. We remember some very virile flu bugs that laid our entire family flat and we had some bouts that just made us feel lousy and gave us fever and coughs. Until they developed a vaccine for some of these viruses, it seemed that influenza was a price we all paid for just living in society.

Some people, usually the elderly and people already in ill health, sometimes died when these viruses made their yearly visits. Even with flu vaccines, an estimated 20,000 people are said to succumb to influenza each year. So why are we in a panic over this bug?

The only difference we can see between this so-called “Swine Flu” and past influenzas is that it popped up unexpectedly, it is a virus never seen by medical experts before this so there is no natural immunity among humans and there is no vaccine. The disease appears to have passed from a pig to humans, and now is jumping from human to human. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control say the virus shows signs of also having the avian, or bird flu linked to its genetic make-up. And that, they say, is a cause for alarm.

The fast spread of this new virus from Mexico throughout North America, then around the world, has forced WHO to declare a Level 5 alert for a world pandemic. It is already packing a deadly punch in Mexico, and health experts warn that it could mutate and turn into a mass killer. But nobody knows.

So far, most people are experiencing what are called “mild” symptoms when they contract this flu, and there have been over a hundred deaths, mostly in Mexico where the virus got its start. What we don’t seem to know is how many people in Mexico have already contracted this virus, and what ratio of these people died.

WHO’s General Director, Dr. Margaret Chan noted that the concern is that no one knows what is going to happen as this virus spreads around the world and runs its course. She said people in developed nations usually fare better when fighting these kinds of illnesses than people in developing countries, which may mean many deaths in some parts of the world, and low fatality rates in places like the United States.

This is the official reasoning for all of the media attention. When we first looked at this issue and began working on this report, we considered the possibility that we were dealing with an inflated diversion designed to get the public mind off other political issues like the torture controversy, which has been weighing heavily on Washington in recent weeks. After eight years of Bush, political trickery like this was so common we are finding it hard to think of an event like this not having a hidden motive behind it.

After hearing Dr. Chan’s announcement and her explanation for raising the threat level to five, and realizing that this story is getting a high level of press coverage all around the world, we no longer see this as a political trick.

What we do wonder, however, is how such a strange and mixed-up genetic compound ever got created. Was it the result of reckless and filthy operations on a large American-owned and operated pig farm located in the area where the virus originated? Or could it have been a bio-terrorist lab experiment being field tested that got out of hand? As we suggested in an earlier story, it may have been a bio-terrorist attack on President Obama when he visited Mexico.

Something like that, we are sure, would get this kind of attention of both the WHO and CDC. And it would prompt taking every precaution to make sure the virus didn’t evolve into something worse . . . like a doomsday bug.

Nobody seems to know what will be imposed on the public if and when we move up to Level 6. It will mean a full pandemic is underway and everybody needs to run for cover. Travel could be restricted if not forbidden between countries. What about between states? Or to and from what jobs we have left to go to? Would it mean marshal law?

How would such an alert affect business? Would people be able to buy groceries and would grocery stores that depend on imported foods from other countries be able to keep their shelves stocked? Hearing President Barack Obama's comments to the nation this week, we doubt if things will be carried to this extreme, although he said his office expects to do "whatever it takes" to combat this virus.

With all of the problems President Obama inherited when he took office in January, and with the economic crisis still having its impact on every town and township, none of us needed a flu pandemic like this thrown in the mix.

A virus is a very small life form. Some say it is about as small as are known to exist. But this particular virus may be the final straw that brings this great nation to its knees.