Monday, October 31, 2005

A flu story

Tonight the History Channel had a special on the Avian flu. It was a worst case scenario, as are all media portrayals. It seems authorative and scary, but when it comes down to it, their scenario is an educated guess. No one can predict how deadly a mutated Avian flu would be to people, and no one can predict how societies will react to it. With that, I'd like to present my own fictional guesstimate as to what the future holds as something of a counterpoint to all of today's dooms day scenarios.

Somewhere in a densly populated, poor region of Asia, possible China or Malaysia or Vietnam, the bird flu mutates. The mutated virus becomes easily transmitted between humans. At very first, the mutation is overlooked, but all too soon it becomes apparent to the entire world that the virus has mutated as a large portion of the host nation's population becomes sick. Borders around Asia are shut down. Western nations close their borders to anything from Asian nations. The flu very quickly spreads in Asia, as closed borders are not enough. The Western media goes into full crisis mode, and governments begin to panic a little. And so do citizens.

National economies slowly begin to close up to the outside world, but they do not halt. In fact, within nations there is a huge spending splurge as people buy the things they think they need. But then it happens. A case of the Avian flu pops up in Turkey. Then Canada. Then Russia. Then Western Europe. Then the rest of the Americas.

The flu spreads more quickly than any illness has ever spread across the globe. International travel never ceased, it just closed up to "common" people, and the remaining travel of diplomats, militaries, and other government and business officials spreads the flu around the globe. Panic fully sets in, aided and abetted by media outlets. Poor nations become very violent. Rich nations become violent and their economies slow greatly, but black markets surge. Things look very bad.

But then something becomes apparent. When the virus mutated, it became easier to transmit from human to human, but it also became less lethal. Fewer people are dying than was expected. Instead of half of the infected dying, health professionals are discovering that roughly 7% or 8 % of the infected are dying. The number of people dying from the flu still strains societies' abilities to process the dead, but it is not unmanageable. And in healthier, wealthier nations, people's immune systems are much more capable of fighting the virus, leading to lower death rates.

Unlike past pandemic flus, the worst of this one passes very quickly-in one flu season. By the end of the first season of this flu, several things have happened. A vaccine has been developed and manufactured. Scientists sequestered by governments also make a breakthrough on the treatment of flu viruses. These two events allow humans to set up something of a firewall against the virus before it can go through a second or a third wave of infections.

The world economy by this time has taken a hit. The combination of ill and dying workers and people willingly removing themselves from the free market for black markets leaves the world in a depressed economy. Things begin to ramp up quickly, though. A lot needs to be done, and and people need to be hired to do those things. In looking back on the pandemic, a couple of things become apparent. First, people panicked unneccessarily, in part because they had been conditioned by mass media to do so. Second, scientists admit that they could have created vaccines in advance of the pandemic that would have given people some but not full immunity to the virus. Had those vaccines been made and distributed, it would have reduced further the lethality of the virus. Third, leadership in many nations is found wanting. Had the leaders in those nations actually led, they would have calmed their populations and reduced the panic.

The most disturbing legacy of the avian flu is a distrust in state governments and market economies. People become more willing to accept global governments and the influence of global NGO's, thinking this is the only way to exert control of these situations in the future. They also become much more willing to accept socialization, thinking this is the only way that they can be taken care of in these situations in the future. The budding global economic recovery stalls as nations find their place in this new world.
I hate writing on this topic, and this prognostication is not exactly rosy. But this seems much more logical than the dooms day scenarios the media spins out, scenarios that have hundreds of millions of billions dying and the global economy all but shutting down.

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