In southwest China, there are two documented cases of the notorious avian influenza, the H5N1 virus. Should we be worried? Well, it is a difficult question to answer since history has shown us that pandemics can be disastrous. But is the bird flu that bad?
The last influenza outbreak that we could truly consider a human pandemic was the Spanish flu of 1918. The death estimates range from 20 million to 60 million people or 1.1% of the European population. This was an extremely bad modern pandemic. Compare this with the Bubonic Plague (Black Death), which killed 20-30% of the European population at the time.
Other more localized pandemics have hit around the world like cholera and viruses that have plagued countries for centuries like malaria still exist around the world today. There have been outbreaks of the swine flu, where death estimates vary from 18,500 to a quarter of a million. In reality, however, we have seen pandemics become smaller and smaller over the past hundred years. Have we bucked the trend? Has modern medicine reduced pandemics to existing only in the history books?
Researchers say otherwise, the bird flu is imminent. We are just a few mutations away from seeing a very deadly virus spread wholesale across the globe, according to scientists. The risk is hard to assess since currently the bird flu cannot be transmitted between humans but with as little as three more mutations this could be possible. The Lancet Medical Journal predicts that that bird Fflu could kill upwards of 69 million people worldwide, 96% of them in the developing world and .97% of the world population. They used the data from the Spanish Flu to make this prediction but we live in time with better medicine and better science.
Should we be worried? Both yes and no. No because chances are you would not die from this even if it were to become transferable from human to human. If you live in the developing world, you should probably be worried a little more than someone in the West, but not much more worried since even if you account for the high death toll in the developing world.
Instead of being worried about pandemics we should instead be concerned about opening up markets in medicine and drugs and investing in developing countries. The best way to reduce pandemics is to develop all the world economies. We have seen in the west pandemics be reduced significantly due to advances in general medicine and hygiene. Pandemics have really only one cure and it is found in economics. I do not think that we can never see another pandemic ever, the natural world is unpredictable, but we have a high standard of living, developing scientific and medical resources to reduce the chance significantly. The more we develop more resources can be put to reducing disease and sickness.