Saturday, April 12, 2008

The View from the Hills

Pandemic scenarios seem more real to me after a short bicycle ride in the hills. I rode through Sunset View Cemetery here in El Cerrito. In the old section there are graves from the early Twentieth Century to the 1920's. About a third of the headstones have a year of death of 1918 - the year of the influenza. The First World War, 1914-1918, (until there was a Second World War known as the World War), was the worst war in human history, the worst catastrophe ever to befall humanity. More people died in it than had died in any war before it. Yet the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people than the war did.

I had not previously understood what seemed such an over-reaction to bird flu. Bird flu is closely related to the influenza strain of 1918. There is reason to be concerned. With modern transportation and larger more crowded populations, particularly in the poor countries, a pandemic today could spread faster and kill more people than in 1918.

Just as the influenza of 1918 overshadowed the war and revolutions of those years, a pandemic would make the issues of today seem insignificant.

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