Bird Flu: What We Need to Know
David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.
Bird Flu is a perplexing book. A.A. Avlicino, who is technically well
qualified, gives us a lucid and witty account of viruses and their modes
of transmission as a background to the likely global pandemic of bird
flu. This is reliably estimated to kill tens of thousands in Canada
alone. There follows an examination of the usefulness of vaccines and
anti-viral drugs, which Alvicino (following others) shows to be of
limited or delayed availability, probably inappropriate for the mutated
strain of bird flu responsible, and of limited effectiveness in any
case. Therefore the burden of warding off and treating viral disease
will come down to precautions that individuals and households can take.
Alvicino gives an exhaustive list.
The trouble is that in saying that the extent of precautions you take
is really up to you, he fails to make a distinction between reasonable
infection control measures and good hygiene practice in urban settings
and, on the other hand, extreme measures that he confines to remote
areas. It is to these remote areas that we are all advised to gravitate,
with a good stock of drugs, clean food and water, fuel, and firearms to
protect us from violent, infected gangs. Thus what begins as a
level-headed precautionary regime ends with crackpot survivalism. At the
same time, Alvicino gives advice on how to preserve your business in
urban settings. Preservation for what!
The author is well aware of the need for government action, but utterly
fails to mention the Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan (CPIP), which
dates from 2002. Such plans, which are still under development, do not
suffer from Alvicino’s contention that they fail to address the
preservation of the health-care system and administration during a
pandemic. Where the CPIP falls down is that it does not yet flesh out
effective plans to “minimize societal disruption as a result of a
pandemic.” On this, Alvicino is correct, as in his criticism of the
futile U.S. plan to make anti-viral drugs the first line of defence.