We’ve been warned for many years that it would happen. Now, finally, it has. In our modern world, an outbreak of a highly communicable disease in one area often means outbreaks elsewhere will soon follow. For that reason, the CDC and international health organizations have coordinated to spot outbreaks of disease.
I think we felt safe in the U.S. that such an outbreak would happen outside our borders, far away in some poor remote 3rd-world village where people drink unclean water. We were prepared for bird flu flying in from Asia. Ultimately, it was a new bird-swine-human flu virus emerging in our backyard, in the neighboring nation of Mexico. Since hundreds, perhaps thousands, of flights between Mexico and the United States take place every day, the disease quickly jumped the first plane out of Mexico into the United States.
While it seems that the initial outbreak in Mexico caused many deaths, the cases in the United States have been described as more mild than the seasonal flu. This is good news, and the usual course for outbreaks of disease. Viruses want to live, so the best way to do so is to adapt to the conditions of the host in a way that allows the virus and the host to continue living. This less virulent outbreak here and abroad gives scientists time to develop an effective vaccine.
The hysteria that has characterized the past ten days or so was predictable. And really, who wants to catch a disease whose sudden emergence kills so many? The media quickly went into its usual role as death-drum-pounding, sky-is-falling, end-is-here predictor of doom and despair. So it was good to get clear information from our government on what the risk is, how to avoid it, what to do if we get it, and what not to do if we don’t. From a P.R. perspective, Federal officials from President Obama down handled the situation well, with the comedic exception of Vice President Biden’s authentic, unguarded response to Today Show host Matt Lauer’s question.
So some plans will be changed, some lessons will be learned, most of the sick will soon be back in good health, and we will all move on hopefully with a greater understanding that these things can happen even in our own back yard, not just far away places. This too shall pass.