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October 02, 2014

Obama 2005: The Avian Flu Is Very Dangerous and It's Only A Matter of Time Before It Comes to America

In the last post, I suggested (without knowing) a contradiction between Obama's attitude towards outbreaks in 2005, as evidenced by his criticism of Bush on the issue, and his "quiet scrapping" of Bush-era rules about quarantines and testing.

I don't think there's a direct contradiction -- because now that I see what Obama was calling for, it's Classic Obama (TM). He wants more money, better "communication," more international cooperation.

The holy trinity -- more money, more talking, more study.

He calls this sort of stuff "decisive action."

It's pretty much his solution to everything not golf-related.

The "AVIAN Act" he was pushing can be seen in summary here. It contains a lot of stuff about "coordination" and improving pandemic responses -- I don't see many specific proposals, apart from demanding the President do something.

While there's not a direct contradiction on the quarantine question, there does seem to be a considerable contradiction between Obama's 2005 stance -- forward-leaning, almost alarmist -- and his current stance as president, which is that we really shouldn't worry terribly much about ebola.

And also, crucially: He seemed a lot more worried about the Avian Flu coming to the US via an overseas flight, despite the avian flu not having the capacity for human-to-human transmission.

He worries that it will mutate to gain this ability -- and that's enough to suggest to him that we have to take "decisive action" (as he defines it) to protect against an epidemic.

From his NYT op-ed, cowritten with former senator Dick Lugar:

When we think of the major threats to our national security, the first to come to mind are nuclear proliferation, rogue states and global terrorism. But another kind of threat lurks beyond our shores, one from nature, not humans -- an avian flu pandemic. An outbreak could cause millions of deaths, destabilize Southeast Asia (its likely place of origin), and threaten the security of governments around the world.

Earlier this year, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the possibility of avian flu spreading from Southeast Asia "a very ominous situation for the globe." A killer flu could spread around the world in days, crippling economies in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. From a public health standpoint, Dr. Gerberding said, an avian flu outbreak is "the most important threat that we are facing right now."

International health experts say that two of the three conditions for an avian flu pandemic in Southeast Asia have already been met. First, a new strain of the virus, called A(H5N1), has emerged, and humans have little or no immunity to it. Second, this strain can jump between species. The only remaining obstacle is that A(H5N1) has not yet mutated into a form that is easily transmitted from human to human.

However, there have been some alarming developments. In recent months, the virus has been detected in mammals that have never previously been infected, including tigers, leopards and domestic cats. This spread suggests that the virus is mutating and could eventually emerge in a form that is readily transmittable among humans, leading to a full-blown pandemic. In fact, according to government officials, a few cases of human-to-human spread of A(H5N1) have already occurred.

The precedent that experts fear is the 1918 flu pandemic, which began in the American Midwest and swept the planet in the era before air travel, killing 20 million to 40 million people. As John M. Barry, author of "The Great Influenza," has observed, "Influenza killed more people in a year than the Black Death of the Middle Ages killed in a century; it killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years."

At the moment, effective responses to an avian flu pandemic are limited and will come far too late for many people in Southeast Asia. Indeed, so far more than 60 percent of those diagnosed with the avian flu have died. There is no proven vaccine for the A(H5N1) strain and it could take months to produce a fully effective one. Moreover, while some antiviral treatments may help flu sufferers, they are not widely available and must be administered to patients within 24 hours after the onset of symptoms.

It is essential for the international community, led by the United States, to take decisive action to prevent a pandemic.


But these are only modest first steps. International health experts believe that Southeast Asia will be an epicenter of influenza for decades. We recommend that this administration work with Congress, public health officials, the pharmaceutical industry, foreign governments and international organizations to create a permanent framework for curtailing the spread of future infectious diseases.


So far, A(H5N1) has not been found in the United States. But in an age when you can board planes in Bangkok or Hong Kong and arrive in Chicago, Indianapolis or New York in hours, we must face the reality that these exotic killer diseases are not isolated health problems half a world away, but direct and immediate threats to security and prosperity here at home.

And yet ebola's journey to the United States is somehow "unlikely"?

Here's video of a speech he gave on the Senate floor in 2005.

Video at the link, but here's the full text of his remarks, which I've excerpted.

We are continuing to witness the relentless spread of avian flu, carried slowly but predictably by wild, migratory birds from countries in Southeast Asia to Western China, to Mongolia, and then over the Ural Mountains into Russia and Ukraine. From there, avian flu has spread over the past week to Romania and Turkey, and we have just learned, possibly into Greece.


Mr. President, at this point, no one should be surprised. The experts have told us repeatedly that a flu pandemic is inevitable, although the timing is unpredictable. In other words, the question is not if, but when. This spread of avian flu is our warning signal, and we need to heed this call to action.

If we're lucky, we'll have at least a year, or perhaps several years, to prepare for a flu pandemic. But we might not be so lucky. And regardless of whether it is this particular strain of avian flu, H5N1, or another deadly strain, the time to act is long overdue if we want to prevent unprecedented human suffering, death, and economic devastation....

Although we have begun to step up to the plate in the Senate, it is unfortunate that none of the avian flu bills that have been introduced have passed into law. Frankly, there's been a lot of talk, but not enough action. And this isn't just true of the Congress.

One year after publishing the draft pandemic flu plan, the Administration has still not released the final HHS Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan. Half of states haven't published plans either, and we know that many of these states will need substantial help.

I'm kinda curious about an Ebola Preparedness Plan, now that you mention it.


I would ask my colleagues how many hearings and briefings that they have sat through where witnesses and experts have urged the United States government to be better prepared for these types of crises.

The failure to prepare for emergencies can have devastating consequences. We learned that lesson the hard way after Hurricane Katrina. This nation must not be caught off-guard when faced with the prospect of an avian flu pandemic. The consequences are too high.

The flyways for migratory birds are well-established. We know that avian flu will likely hit the United States in a matter of time. With the regular flu season coming up shortly, conditions will be favorable for reassortment of the avian flu virus with the annual flu virus. Such reassortment could lead to a mutated virus that could be transmitted efficiently between humans, which is the last condition needed for pandemic flu.

The question is will we be ready when that happens? Let's make sure that answer is yes. I urge my colleagues in the Senate and the House to push this Administration to take the action needed to prevent a catastrophe that we have not seen during our lifetimes.

Senator Obama sure seemed to take the danger of pandemics more seriously when he could lodge his concerns as a partisan criticism of another president.

President Obama is a lot more relaxed about global pandemics, for some reason.

Incidentally, of course, the avian flu never really hit the United States in any kind of major way.

I'm focusing on Obama's noting that a pandemic is only one plane ticket away from the United States -- something he knew in 2005, but seems to have forgotten by 2014, when he deemed Ebola's entry into the US "unlikely."

Also note that when Obama spoke (and perhaps still today) the Avian Flu could not be spread from one human to another.

Ebola obviously can be spread from human to human -- thus making it more likely to be spread via the airplane route.

Thanks to Tom S. Ellitott.

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posted by Ace at 01:29 PM

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