May 12, 2006

Swine Song

Perhaps you've heard of H5N1? The Avian Flu Virus? It's a pet topic of mine, actually. Ever since my father contracted VRE (vancomycin-resistant entrococci) the year before he died, I've had a rigorous, and sometimes unhealthy, interest in microbes and virus-related science. Beginning eleven years ago, my research has led me to one conclusion: The bugs are gonna win.

The threat of a global pandemic is real. I believe this, as surely as I believe that information is power, and the more we know, the safer we can be. A paper was released in the Science journal (this is the Star's summary) recommending that old, sick people be innoculated last in case of a pandemic. The talking heads are going to have a ball with this one.

It flies in the face of our existing vaccine advisory. Currently, flu vaccines are destined for the very young, the very old, and the sick FIRST. This recommendation is a reversal.

Obviously, this is now a question for a Morals & Ethics class. Who are you going to chuck out of the boat in order for the majority to survive? Consider some facts first: The strain of avian virus currently being chased is targeted to young, healthy adults. A good immune system actually makes you a target. The virus tricks your body into attacking itself, and the stronger your 'army', the worse the attack. This is a reversal of standard flu, which feeds on compromised systems.

If a pandemic guts our country of the strongest, most productive individuals, where will we be? Actually, by the time we are assigning someone's worth on a Darwinian scale of social justice, we're all going to be at each other's throats anyway.

What do I think? The first line is easy - any person you can imagine picking up the phone to call for help (medical/fire/police/ambulance etc) gets first crack at it. The current Canadian standards recommends kids 2-18 get LAST call. I cannot for the life of me imagine me, or my elderly parents if they were alive, accepting a life-saving vaccination ahead of my children. Couldn't do it.

One thing is clear; it's time to start thinking about this, and learn some science. I think we are going to learn rapidly that life isn't about plasma TVs, Jessica Simpson and Home Depot's BBQ sale. We need to smarten up, and fast.


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