Friday, January 30, 2004

So what, we just hide in the basement and cower?

Is too much information a bad thing? Is it scare mongering, or just some much needed honesty about our current lifestyle? We seem to lurch from one omen of doom to another these days, one wonders if we should even roll out of bed. In the last six weeks we've gone from a BSE crisis in our cows, a health warning about green onions from Mexico, to a report that says farmed salmon is nothing but a toxic wasteland. So what now? Are we all to be vegans? If so what about those green onions?

When we're not wondering if our food is going to make us sick there's that worry about the guy or gal beside us in the grocery store. You know the one, they're busy sneezing all over the place grabbing the veggies (again what about those green onions?) and fruits at will. We've been treated to six weeks of warnings about something called the Fujian flu, a rebirth in the SARS scare and now the grand daddy of all threats, a pandemic flu. You sure you want to load up on produce after standing beside Mr. or Mrs. Sniffles.

The latest health scare comes from some kind of mass infection of fowl in the Far East. The "bird" flu has jumped border to border, from Thailand to Vietnam to China to Pakistan, to name a few of the countries wondering if Foghorn Leghorn is safe to eat. The worry is that the virus in the fowl will jump to humans, a brand new strain of infection that has no cure. Even more worrisome is the trend of countries in that triangle to be less than forthright with their health problems. Thailand recently apologized for not coming clean with the severity of the bird flu in it's countryside. A little too late for the neighbours there and in this age of trans national transportation in the air, a little too late for the rest of us as well.

Our health officials here say we're overdue for a world wide pandemic of the flu. Which is rather disturbing, you would think that with all our progress in the field of health, the idea of the flu wiping out a sizeable chunk of us would be a thing of the past. But nope, we're rushing vials of flu shots to Thailand to inoculate the folks charged with killing all the birds, before they kill us. Now I'm all for helping those brave cullers out, but isn't this the same flu shot that won't even work on the Fujian Flu, the one that supposedly was going to wreak havoc with us. Hard to believe it's going to work on a virus that they can't even identify yet. Then again, you send me into a warehouse full of dead birds and tell me to pick them up and burn them, well start jabbing me, give me whatever you have. Make me a pin cushion for the cause.

A flu pandemic apparently won't be a pretty thing according to Health officials. The three pandemics that have been studied killed millions, the Spanish Flu 1918-19, the Asian flu 1957-58, and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69. By far the worst was the Spanish Flu which claimed over 50 million lives. It was in a world ill prepared to deal with sickness on a grand scale, a war just ending brought home troops from the far reaches of the world, bringing with them a virus that proved to be devastating beyond belief.

The world is better prepared these days, but yet the fear is out there that we aren't too far past the days of mass infection. The Sars cases in Toronto of last year, may prove to be a testing ground for how we handle a major health crisis. Yet without shared information, we'll all be at the mercy of nature and nature seems a tad upset with us these days. Countries like Thailand and China that hide incidences of infection and try to cover up the severity of the problem are not helping the rest of us. So perhaps as gloomy as the news can be, it's best to have it all out and in the open. While it's tempting to want to go through the day in the dark and worry free, surely we're better off at least with a warning, a heads up is always a welcome thing. That is, as long as we heed the information provided.

Short of that, stay away from the sneezing ones and wash those fruits and veggies vigorously. And what the hell dig into that steak or hunk of salmon, somehow with all the worries of the flu, the idea of giving up on beef and fish just doesn't seem as pressing all of a sudden.

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