Oh God, Now Even This Blog is Posting on Avian Flu!
A lot of people have been writing about the threat that the world faces from bird flu. Personally I’m not so worried. Currently I’m afraid to go outside due to the intense ultra violet radiation that is beating down. Also, I live next to a busy road, so I think that about half the air I breathe has been purified by being passed through an internal combustion engine. In addition I’m sure we will soon have many days where the temperature will be over 35 degrees Celsius. These are all conditions that make unlife hard for a virus. When you add in the fact that I prefer to bow than to shake hands and that many of my friends are imaginary, I consider myself pretty safe.
One estimate says if the bird flu mutates into a highly contagious form then about 5% of the worlds population could become infected, with nearly half of them dying. Well, when I say “estimate,” I actually mean “rumour,” because no one really knows for sure what might happen. But lets assume there is a 5% chance of such an event coming to pass that will kill on average 150 million people. Let’s also assume that because I live in a first world country with a fairly effective health care systems we will we will suffer only 10% as many deaths per person as less developed countries. Let’s further assume that the fact I live in a geographically remote location in an environment that’s harsh on viruses reduces the chance of infection by a further 50%. Finally I’ll rate my introverted lifestyle as further reducing my chances of infection by another 50%. This gives me a grand total of a 0.000025 chance of dying from bird flu. I like those odds.
But what if I’m an extroverted Australian who lives in Sydney, you may ask? Well don’t worry. According to the figures I pulled out of my butt, you probably only have a 0.0001% chance of dying, or one chance in ten thousand, which is less than your chance of being murdered in your lifetime. (Unless of course you are a particularly annoying extrovert.)
Of course some people think that even a tiny chance of dying is too high. (How wimpy.) So what could the government do to reduce the risk of people dying from bird flu or other epidemics? Well it could increase the number of sick days available to people who work in positions where they are likely to spread diseases. This reduces the chance of someone coming to work with a sniffle that could turn out to be bird flu. However, to help prevent them being abused, we might have to call them Contagion Prevention days.
As for spending money on drugs that might protect against bird flu, it makes sense as long as the money wouldn’t save more lives on average if it were spent somewhere else. For example, many people die of run of the mill flu every year, so if more years of human life would be saved by spending the money on conventional flu vaccine then that would be the sensible course to take. Of course governments don’t get kicked out of office if the average number of people who die from ordinary flu each year die from ordinary flu in a year. They will get kicked out of office if a bird flu epidemic occurs and people don’t think the government was adequately prepared. This consideration may affect the cost benefit analysis somewhat.
What can you do personally to protect yourself and loved ones against avian flu? Well, buying a game consol and some addictive games might be best. That way if an epidemic hits you might be able to persuade your kids to stay indoors and away from friends who might infect them. Frequent hand washing is important and wearing a mask helps. A handyperson’s dust mask works well at stopping virus filled particles of phlegm people may have coughed out, but you may want to carry an electric drill or something around with you so you won’t feel self conscious about wearing one. Masks can always be improvised if you find yourself caught short. Warm water, soap, detergent and sunshine are all good for killing virus particles that may be on clothes or other surfaces. Ultraviolet lights are available if you’re really paranoid. One of the most important things to do is to eat healthily. Failing that, get into the habit of taking a multivitamin.