Act Now or Pay Later

The science community is begging us to understand that the standard risk assessments coming out of Washington about what really threatens to harm us are not just wrong, but that if we don’t heed what really matters, the DC consensus will also prove to be tragically wrong. The latest evidence in support of this view comes to us in a recently-released book and in an upcoming documentary film.

Deadliest Enemy 2In “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, founding director of the Infectious Disease Center for Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota, says that “infectious disease is the deadliest enemy faced by all of human kind,” because it has “the potential to alter the day to day functioning of society, halt travel, trade, and industry, or foster political instability.

In Osterholm’s view “there are only two microbial threats that … fit this description” for pandemic potential. One is “antimicrobial resistance and the very real threat of moving ever closer to a ‘post-antibiotic era’ … a world more like that of our great-grandparents where deaths due to infectious diseases we now consider treatable are once again commonplace.”

The other is influenza, “the one respiratory-transmitted infection that can spread around the world in short order and strike with lethal force.” Some variant of the bird flu, for example.

The pandemic potential of infectious disease is also the subject of the documentary “Unseen Enemy” whose global broadcast on CNN is April 7 in the US & Canada. The film is endorsed by the prestigious National Academy of Medicine who are holding an advance screening in Washington on April 3, which will include a panel discussion of experts moderated by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Presumably it will be available on CNN at a later date.

It’s important to understand that what’s driving this pandemic potential is us. The filmmakers sum it up nicely: “Population growth, mass urbanization, deforestation, climate change and increased travel have dramatically increased the risk that familiar diseases will spread and mutate, and new ones will emerge. As people enter new spheres of biodiversity, they come into closer contact with other species, allowing viruses to jump from animals to humans and then spread more widely.”

One more thing. Pandemics are about more than just numbers or the disease itself. They’re also about how they scar our psyche with fear, suspicion, and even panic; for example, the Ebola scare of 2014. Take a look at this CBS report that came out at the time, “Ebola Panic Spreading Much Faster than Disease in U.S.,” which reads, in part, “The threat of Ebola is generating a considerable amount of fear and misinformation across the country, not to mention a growing number of false alarms. Fears about Ebola have reached a fever pitch in recent days.”

Here’s the thing: all that countrywide fear – yet there was only one case of Ebola that ever arose within the borders of the United States.

The films must-see trailer says we either get on board with this issue now or we’re gonna pay for it later.

(Dr. Osterholm’s book deserves fuller treatment & will be the subject of a future column.)

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