Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Extreme Measures To Prevent An Extreme Outcome

All of a sudden there is a new threat which has emerged seemingly from nowhere. Actually, it comes from Mexico. Concern about Swine Flu has swiftly transformed from “What the heck is Swine Flu?” to “Oh my God let’s close the borders!” Already reports of deaths in foreign countries are prompting fears of the infection spreading out of control. Thank goodness we have a plan, devised in the wake of the Avian Flu crisis of 2006, which sets out the steps to be taken to help contain the threat and treat the victims.

It might seem extreme to empower health authorities to detain and disinfect individuals, to turn away ships and planes arriving from overseas, to close down schools and childcare centres, and to postpone elective surgery to provide room in the hospitals to deal with an influx of flu sufferers, but that is exactly what has happened. The authorities now have the power to do all of the above and more, should it be deemed necessary, and it does all sound overpoweringly over the top. But it’s not time to panic yet.

Just because those steps can be taken doesn’t mean that they will. The chances are that the more extreme measures won’t be necessary, but at the same time it is important that protocols are in place to deal with events as they unfold. At this point, although there are more than 100 possible cases in Australia, none have yet been confirmed. It seems likely that at least some of those cases will be genuine, and if so then they will be treated accordingly. At this point, the things which might seem to be an over-reaction are actually the things which could prevent a far worse outcome, which should come as a reassurance, not an indication that disaster is at hand.

Of course, disaster is possible, but things have changed greatly since the Spanish Flu pandemic almost 100 years ago which killed around 50 million people worldwide. Although the modern day ease of travel means that disease can be spread around the world more quickly, modern medicine and modern knowledge of hygiene make a tremendous difference. Although we do not have a specific vaccine at this moment, one will be developed. Although antibiotics have no effect on the flu, we now have antiviral drugs. The point is that while the threat is serious, we should be confident that proper precautions will result in minimizing the impact.

Sometimes it seems that there is always a new threat for us to worry about, and which demands urgent action. The threat of climate change, the threat of the global financial crisis, the threat of people smugglers transporting asylum seekers into our country, and now the threat of a new virus. Now, instead of worrying about the next boatload of desperate people arriving from the Middle East, we can worry about the next aeroplane arriving from Mexico.

The truth is that, with sensible precautions, most of us will have nothing to worry about.

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