Talk to me about this bird flu thing…

I’m curious. What do you think about this whole avian flu thing? Are you stockpiling peanut butter, paper masks and drinking water? Are you getting a flu shot? Are you rolling your eyes at people who even mention the words “flu pandemic” in conversation? I know about a hundred people drop by here on the average day, so if you haven’t joined in the conversation before – speak up! I’d really like to hear from a wide range of people on this one (God bless the Internet.)

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I was pretty quick to dismiss the pandemic fear-mongering as much ado about nothing from the wingnut and fringe crowd. You might remember that Canada was hit particularly hard by the SARS virus in 2003, and I dialed in to the daily federal government communications conference call on that, so I had a pretty good view from the inside. In the end, it was the hype and hyperbole that scared me more than the virus. Up until recently, I was lumping the public’s reaction to an inevitable pandemic in with their response to SARS and the Y2K thing – and dismissing it as mass hysteria based on hype, misunderstood facts and rampant speculation.

Then I read a blog entry from someone for whom I have immense respect, and she was taking this whole thing very seriously. Within three days, another mummy friend – whom I would consider the antithesis of the chicken-little type – told me about all the research she’d been doing, and how genuinely frightened she is. It was enough to make me stop in my tracks and take a good look around.

This week, Canadian health ministers and representatives from international public health organizations met here in Ottawa to discuss plans and options in the case of a flu pandemic. That’s probably a large part of why at least the local media has been saturated with all things avian this week – and part of the reason I’m interested in your view from out there. I read an article a month or so ago in Macleans magazine that reinforced my previous opinion that the fear of the flu is out of proportion to the actual risk we face. Read it if you have time, it’s a reassuring counterpoint to some of the more scary information out there.

And that’s exactly the problem. Instinctively, I want to read information that confirms what I want to believe – that this whole flu pandemic thing is hype, and that the risk to me, to my kids, to my family and those in my life, is minimal. After all, only 60 people have died so far. (Perspective check: each year, 250,000 to 500,000 people die from the flu globally, 500 to 1500 of them in Canada, and most of those people are already sick or elderly. Stats courtesy of Health Canada.) The bird flu has not yet transmitted person to person. Yes, the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 decimated the population around the globe – but think of the advancements in medicine and science since 1918. There was no public health care, no vaccines in 1918. That’s the year my grandmother was born – we’ve come a long way, baby.

Waffle alert!! And yet – I’ll be lining up next Saturday to get my flu shot for the first time ever. They’re holding a clinic near my house, and it’s just too convenient not to do it. I’m going to get the boys vaccinated for the first time as well. I’m a believer in vaccines, and since they’re free I can’t come up with any good reason not to have everyone get their shot.

That’s my concession to fear, I guess, although it’s more because I think it’s a smart and practical thing to do, rather than because I believe we are facing the possibility of society grinding to a halt when the pandemic hits. (Touches wood.) I’m not stockpiling peanut butter just yet. But I’m not sticking my head in the sand either.

Just this morning, I had to resist the urge to get my knickers in a twist when I read that if there were a flu pandemic and a vaccine were developed, the Canadian Public Health Agency has said that kids aged 2 – 18 would be the last ones vaccinated. They’d have a hell of a fight on their hands if they denied me when I took my kids in to get vaccinated in my place. Take a deep breath, I told myself, that’s a lot of “ifs”.

What do you think? Please comment, because I’d really like to hear a range of perspectives on this. Are you taking steps to protect yourself, your family? Are you worried? Are you stockpiling fresh water and tins of soup? Or do you think the whole thing is just the latest media frenzy and that we’ll all be shrugging sheepishly when this, too, peters out to nothing?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

18 thoughts on “Talk to me about this bird flu thing…”

  1. I have not read into the Avian flu issue, but not because I don’t take it seriously. I want to stockpile water, soup and peanut butter, if not for the flu then for terrorist attacks, hurricanes or whatever else could happen. It’s on my to do list 🙂
    I’m not actively worried about it but it’s one of those things int he back of my mind, the “could happen” disasters that I’d rather not think about. But it’s better to be informed than not informed, that’s for sure.

  2. I thnk the boys & I will get the flu shot this year, simply cause last year we did and no one got sick. I know it won’t prevent any new flu strains or the bird flu, but it’s gotta help somewhat or they wouldn’t offer/encourage it.
    As for the avian/bird thing. WHAT can we do other than locking ourselves up in a bomb shelter forever? That bothers me. Yes I am concerned, even scared. But again I ask, what can we do. I have not properly educated myself about it simply cause, well, I haven’t. My bad. I’ll let you do that for me!
    I wish I had a stronger arugument/support for you. Maybe I’ll do some homework and get back to you.
    P.S. I was hoping for a Friday ramblings and now you’ve hurt my brain and made me think.

  3. I’m somewhere between hiding my head in the sand and preparing a quarantine bunker. I want to believe that it’s all hype, but that same blogger (if I have the right one) is so smart and insightful that now I can’t help but take the issue more seriously.
    For now I think I’ll continue paying close attention to all the news stories about this, and I will probably invest in some face masks. And pray that reality falls far short of the predictions.

  4. Personally, I am not at all concerned about this…as per ususal my generation is the “no fear” generation…we just go about daily our lives and react to the things as they happen. I have heard about the flu shots, but have never gotten one and probably won’t for a while. Maybe once I have children my outlook on things like this will change, but for now I am coasting through life with little worries of the flu pandemic.

  5. Honestly, at this point, I’m not that scared. From what I hear this is a repeat so far of a situation in the 1970s where there was a pig flu pandemic of some kind, and all sorts of people thought that was going to be the big one like 1918. And what happened? It never developed the ability to reliably pass from person to person, so …. nothing.
    It’s not that I think it can’t happen, but that at this point, I think it’s not very likely. Our government is, I believe, doing the smart thing by putting plans in place in case it does happen, but that’s different.
    I remind myself of all the “known” apocalypses we were supposed to have in the past thirty or forty years–and all of them seemed plausible, but none of them happened. So it might happen, but in the meantime, beyond a few small and sensible precuations (like having some canned foods in the house, which is smart for other reasons too, like power failures, and getting my flu shot, which I would have done anyway)–that’s it.
    Just my two cents.

  6. Me? I never worry about these things…Just stupid I guess. I’d be more worried about my parents than us 4 here. And they are getting the flu shot. Although they went this week and they ran out of serium before they got to them. Gotta love the CLSC here in QC.
    Of course I do take some precations, wash my hands frequently, and all that other stuff.
    Otherwise I don’t worry about it. OH my hubby gets the flu shot and the rest of us don’t. His work requires he gets and and they do it there. So he doesn’t bring it home to us. Although the flu shot only covers a small range of flu’s. But I’m sure you knew that.

  7. As a rule, sincee there really isn’t much that I an do, I don’t devote a lot of energy thinking about it. If the avian does get to the point where it jumps from person to person, then I think I’ll consider loading up the car and driving up to my folk’s house in rural Maine for a while until things settle down.
    But, until that time I’ll work myself up into a dither over politics and the war.

  8. well written, good thoughts but in the end we need to look more deeply into the concepts of “think locally, act locally” because that’s where the action will be, people needing each other and being there to help, all independant aspirations aside…
    a pandemic can’t be avoided in the end… perhaps now it can, but in a year, a few months, a couple of years, it will reappear in a totally different and unexpected guise…
    i’m worried, not so much about avian flu as much as about the implications of the devolving of local, semi-local and proviancial authority into the hands of “national” lawmakers…
    hope i’m making sense here, bit confused myself…
    keep well,

  9. I’m not overly concerned about the avian flu. It’s probably a combination of an “it can never happen to me” attitude and a sense of overall apathy. 🙂 Maybe I’m just lazy.
    We were talking about it in school today and someone mentioned that the company that holds the patent (for lack of better terminology) has agreed to share it with other companies so they can help with the production of the vaccine. This raises the hypothesis that they may know something we don’t and they’re actively planning for a future pandemic. Maybe it’s just a matter of time until we start seeing more cases in Canada? Zombie season starts on Monday afterall.
    Good luck!

  10. I don’t know…this kind of reminds me of the “It’s Y2K: the end is near!” freakouts. There seems to be a recent trend toward thriving on fear, which is dangerous. I’ve seen that quite a bit in the States, but not so much here. I’m always amazed at the commercials when I’m in the States: pharmaceutical companies rule the airwaves. This is a whole other topic, I guess. Anyway, we don’t get flu shots here either because I don’t think they’re necessary: partly for the reason SilverCreek Mom mentioned (r/e the fact that they only cover a small range of flu viruses) and partly because I don’t like the concept of shots in general. Needles don’t bother me – I’m fine with acupuncture – but I prefer a holisitic approach whenever possible, and that’s been working great for me.

  11. Funny that you brought this up as I spent the day yesterday attending an infectious disesase conference given to 600 or so health care workers by an eminent specialist in the field. Add to that the fact that I have a degree in microbiology and immunology, with a thesis written in virology…so anything viral, I love to hear about. Of course the avian flu topic came up yesterday. He didn’t convey a state of panic about it but its really still scary as the nature of the viruses involved are poorly understood and they tend to mutate constantly making it a total nightmare trying to come up with anything to safeguard against it. That’s the part that freaks me out. Plus the fact that the countries where the disease originates is so poorly equipped epidimeologically and the hygiene practices can be below standards making the spread of disease so much faster. The 1918 pandemic was a similar type of of avian virus. Another factor involved now that didn’t exist in 1918 is that so many more people (billions as opposed to thousands) travel worldwide so the spread of disease has increased exponentially. Honestly, I’ve been worrying about this avian flu since last year. Not to the point of stocking up with supplies but just in precautions, which is all we can do and which is what this specialist conveyed. Flu shots will protect against some viral proteins, so IF we get infected with anything it may attenuate the syptoms. Washing our hands, keeping healthy, eating well, keeping hydrated, vitamins, sleeping enough, everything and anything to keep our immune system in top shape (cuz of course its those with poor immune systems that will suffer the most) and for us, having 2 kids with asthma, at times it may mean staying away from large group gatherings in the wintertime so as not to expose ourselves unnecesserily. I’m not sure how to react to the government meetings about this. Is it that bad and are they finally that worried about it to finaly talk about it? Will they actually have a decent plan in place in case of any outbreaks? These things tend to spread from west to east, so we’ll have to keep tuned to it.
    Sorry about the ramblings, obviously a subject close to my heart.
    Wishing a healthy winter to everyone

  12. Wow…
    It would appear that disasters like
    Hurricane Katrina have taught us nothing. Unfortunately, I fear that it will be those of you who are “Apathetic” or “lazy”, or feel invincible that will slam the government and media for not having done enough beforehand to protect us if ever this virus does mutate so as to spread human-human. It seems to me that there’s not much we can do but to educate ourselves to the possibilites and be prepared, or else we may be sorry. What’s the worst that can happen from over-preparing…no virus and a few extra jars of peanut butter stored in the basement?
    Sadly, we have become a society that is incapable of taking care of ourselves. We no longer make/grow our own food, we rely on others for a safe water supply, and many of us can’t heat our own homes in winter in the event of an ice storm/power outage.
    I WILL take responsibility for myself/my family by preparing now for any eventuality because I don’t want to be sorry in the end. I am also taking steps to educate my family on survival skills should anything scarier than a flu pandemic occur.
    I can’t understand why a dose of education seems like “frenzy” to so many people.
    Please don’t rely on past history to guide your opinions…the world in 1918 was a very different place. There simply weren’t planeloads of people flying in/out of every country in the world in those days, spreading every/all kinds of viruses around the globe, effectively, in hours.
    Ask yourselves…would you be happy if your childrens’ schools stopped doing fire drills because the likelihood of a school fire was deemed to be too minimal?
    We have been warned. Now the rest is up to us.

  13. I hope that my instinct that it’s the latest media hype is true. However, the medical services in the UK are underprepared for this kind of medical emergency if it does occur. I have considered buying in flu shots (not readily available in the UK from our GPs) just in case, but…
    A recent cartoon in Private Eye is of a man in the bath with a rubber duckie, staring at it and cowering in fear. I think that pretty much sums it up.

  14. Wow, great range of opinions on this one. Thank you all so much for sharing your perspective!
    I have to admit, Janet’s “what’s the harm in being prepared?” approach is probably the one I’ll take… although I really do have a hard time imagining that the flu itself will be as bad as they predict, let alone the societal fall-out that some are envisioning.
    Very very interesting – thank you all! (And a special thank you to first-time commenters for joining the discussion. Come back anytime!)
    xo Dani

  15. Oh, Dani. Sometimes you forget what your friends are really like :-). I ALWAYS have a stockpile of water. I own two boxes of medical masks. I have enough food to feed my family (without electricity) for 2 weeks. And I would pull my children from school and every social activity if something like SARS were to become rampant in Ottawa. I think the sky is falling!!!

  16. BTW – you HAVE to get twinmomplusone’s contact information to Jon. I swear they were separated at birth…

  17. Twinmom, I totally forgot the big paragraph I wrote in my head yesterday when I first read your comment… so sorry! Thank you SO much for your very professional and informed reply. Honestly, I had NO idea you studied that. Sheesh, just when you think you know a girl…
    Jon, by the way, is the bro-in-law of Yvonne. His specialty is exactly the kind of thing you studied, and he’s currently working in Germany.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *