Christian Long

Laurie Garrett: Lessons from the 1918 Flu

In TED Talks on May 22, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Reflection by CONNOR S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Laurie Garrett:  Lessons from the 1918 Flu

Laurie Garrett addresses something disconcerting that many people are unwilling to face; humankind is not prepared for a large scale pandemic. In fact, we may not even be prepared for a deadly infectious disease, which at the taping of video, was believed to be bird flu at the time. With the bubonic plague, deaths occured in impoverished areas, and spread quickly across Europe, and this was without fast transportation methods such as planes, trains, and cars. In fact, because the more deadly diseases nowadays are the antibiotic-resistant ones, improvements in technology seem to have made the possibility of a pandemic spread increases. When people consider shutting down transportation, it would be counterproductive actually; the few things we have to combat disease, such as masks and Tamiflu, need to be transported from country to country… but are our preventative measures even going to be able to do something?

Laurie Garrett points out a few negative factors of Tamiflu that make a person realize how unprepared we are for a flu pandemic, which may have been a reason for the freakout over swine flu. Many countries stockpiled Tamiflu in fear of bird flu, yet only enough for 2 weeks for a small population. We would become attached to a false sense of security of being resistant to a highly drug resistant virus, when in fact Tamiflu is not all that a person would think it to be. Flus are often evolve extremely quickly, and as a result drugs would soon become useless and the influenza strain would become resistant. In fact, so little of Tamiflu is actually ingested by the human body, it actually exits the body and when waste reaches the water, allows influenza in birds to become resistant and in turn make Tamiflu more useless.

People also hope for the possibiliy of a vaccine. Vaccines are already incredibly difficult for flus; they evolve quickly. But recent discoveries have also revealed that the symptoms of the flu are not the actual kilers. In fact, your own body kills you. Upon sighting the unknown flu virus, the immune system cannot figure out what it is, as it haas never seen anything like it before. As a result, it sends in all the firepower it has straight into your lungs to attempt to fight off the virus, and as a result, you end up drowning in your own immune system from pneumonia. You cannot vaccinate very well against your own immune system. We are not prepared for a flu-based pandemic.

While many people do not want to face the possibility of a global pandemic on the scale of the bubonic plague, modern transportation and inability to fight disease is starting to bring humankind to a point where we are extremely susceptible to a disease. Seemingly obvious ideas such as the shutting down of transportation would not work; how would we transport medical personnel and supplies? You cannot simply make an antibiotic or vaccine… viruses are beginning to evolve for quickly and in turn resist antibiotics and vaccinations due to overuse of them. Humankind’s dependence on external protection from disease may have also weakened our own immune systems. We are not prepared for a pandemic, and when the time comes and one begins, humanity will begin to realize this and regret not focusing more on this.

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