Saturday, October 10, 2009

Facing Pandemic - The Possibility

Megan, writer and editor of Simple Kids, posted a blog article entitled, Five Things Parents Should Know About the H1N1 VaccinationIt is valuable information simply written.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestseller entitled The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, uses a flu outbreak to illustrate how a seasonal illness can become an epidemic.

"The best way to understand the Tipping Point is to imagine a hypothetical outbreak of the flu.  Suppose, for example, that one summer 1,000 tourists come to Manhattan from Canada carrying an untreatable strain of twenty-four-hour virus.  This strain of flu has a 2 percent infection rate, which is to say that one out of every 50 people who come into close contact with someone carrying it catches the bug himself.  Let's say that 50 is also exactly the number of people the average Manhattanite - in the course of riding the subways and mingling with colleagues at work - comes into contact with every day.  What we have, then, is a disease in equilibrium.  Those 1,000 Canadian tourists pass on the virus to 1,000 new people on the day they arrive.  And the next day those 1,000 newly infected people pass on the virus to another 1,000 people, just as the original 1,000 tourists who started the epidemic are returning to health.  With those getting sick and those getting well so perfectly in balance, the flu chugs along at a steady but unspectacular clip though the rest of the summer and the fall.

But then comes the Christmas season.  The subways and buses get more crowded with tourists and shoppers, and instead of running into an even 50 people a day, the average Manhattanite now has close contact with, say, 55 people a day.  All of a sudden, the equilibrium is disrupted.  The 1,000 flu carriers now run into 55,000 people a day, and at a 2 percent infection rate, that translates into 1,100 cases the following day.  Those 1,100, in turn, are now passing on their virus ... as well, so that by day three there are 1,210 Manhattanites with the flu and by day four 1,331 and by the end of the week there are nearly 2,000, and so on up, in an exponential spiral, until Manhattan has a full-blown flu epidemic on its hands by Christmas Day.  That moment when the average flu carrier went from running into 50 people a day to running into 55 people was the Tipping Point.  It was the point at which an ordinary and stable phenomenon - a low-level flu outbreak - turned into a public health crisis."

What can I do in the face of possible pandemic?  More to follow.

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