For years the media has gone from one health scare to another, with each summer bringing with it a new viral terror that will result in a pandemic. There was swine flu, the west Nile virus and avian flu just to name a few. But it looked like they were all false alarms, nothing really came out of any of them, each outbreak was quickly contained and resulted in only a handful of deaths at the most.
Now it seems the real deal has arrived. The swine flu that has emerged from Mexico has, over the course of a few days, gone from a bizarre outbreak south of our border to an international crisis, with infections now reported not just in the U.S. and Mexico, but New Zealand, Spain and Canada all have confirmed cases, while Israel is concerned that it may have some infections as well. The Center for Disease Control and the feds have taken this all very seriously, announcing a state of emergency, with the CDC sending out constant warnings that the strain found in the U.S. is mild in comparison to its southern counterpart, and that contingencies need to be drawn up for the cancellations of schools and measures similar to those already taken in Mexico City, which has been nearly shut down for fear of further infections.
Like the last global flu pandemic, which took place in 1918, this new swine flu comes at an incredibly inconvenient time. Just as the world is trying to regain its economic footing, and while third world countries are at their weakest, the effects of even a minor pandemic could be disastrous. Cities in the first world could shut down, with economic activity brought to a crawl as employees stay home, due either to fear or illness. Global trade, already at a perilously low rate, would be crippled as nations tighten their borders.
Export-reliant countries, many of which are in the third world, would suffer incredibly from this. Not only would their revenues be cut from the drop in trade, but if the flu reaches their territory, their production would grind to a halt. The resources of global and domestic health services are already stretched too far, a pandemic would leave untold numbers of people without the means to care for themselves or loved ones, leaving governments the morbid decision of who to try and save with limited resources.
The terrible thing about a global health crisis of this nature is the fact that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There’s no way to throw money at a flu, no military action can be taken and even the most deft of diplomats can’t reason with a petri dish of viruses. Vaccinations will be implemented in the countries that can afford them, and the media will run tons of tips and tricks to ward off infection. But in the long run, if this flu mutates further, it could very well leap across the globe despite our best intentions, and there’s only so much modern medicine can do against a virulent, far-flung infection.
This isn’t the media grasping for ratings with footage of trucks spraying brush to kill mosquitoes or stock footage of chickens puttering about in their coops. This is the real thing, and there’s little the average person can do save for stay mindful and hope for the best.