Today's World Health Organization announcement that it was raising the Swine Flu alert to Stage 5, or Pandemic status, is meant as a serious warning that we need to mobilize resources to confront this threat.
There appears at first blush to be less of a risk to mankind than that posed by the equivalent early reports of Bird Flu and SARS, which killed over 30% of those infected, but which also were not fully airborne. The Ebola Virus is so lethal that it literally kills before it can spread beyond tight geographical boundaries. This new strain of Swine Flu is far more benign and hopefully will be only marginally more serious that a tough flu season.
We normally overlook these flu season deaths but they average 35,000 Americans per year. We overlook these because many victims are the elderly, the immuno-suppressed or the very young.
This flu strain seems to ignore the very young and the older population and afflict those 15-40 who appear to be in otherwise good health. There are the earliest hints that the rest of us may have some limited immunities from earlier strains of flu which produced antibodies protecting us from the full brunt of a new strain.
I could very well be wrong and it is in acknowledgment of that possibility that my organization, Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based global medical relief agency, has mobilized all its resources to send protective gear to dozens of community-based health care organizations in the US and soon in Mexico.
Companies who make or wholesale appropriate medical and hygiene supplies need to focus on both producing more of what's needed to protect us and to set aside a generous percentage of those supplies for community clinics who cannot otherwise afford to purchase these in bulk. Poor and medically underserved communities -- 50 million Americans, at the least in this time of economic chaos -- need free access to the simplest of these protective materials: soap, hand sanitizers, anti-virals if needed, latex gloves and, if necessary, N95 level surgical masks to protect us.
The next week or two will either ratchet up our fears or bring us to a calm vigilance. Fingers crossed!