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We are not ready for the influenza pandemic

I am writing about this because when I was a reporter I covered many hearings in Washington about the politics of vaccines. It was infuriating that people were sick and died because of politics. It was infuriating how often it happened. But it’s happening again.

WASHINGTON — It starts with body aches, chills, exhaustion, headache and fever. Then come congestion, sore throat and cough. It is miserable. It is the flu.

In Ohio, where I picked up the bug that laid me low, despite a flu vaccine shot, the hospitals are full. But it is spreading across the country like a shadow. No state is immune.

I had just read several excellent books about the great flu pandemic of 1918, which started a century ago this month. It is a chilling medical mystery, with incredible death and suffering. More than 500 million people were infected. Many recovered only to die young of complications, including my grandfather whom I never knew.

Some American soldiers sent abroad to fight the Great War carried the virus with them. It spread throughout Europe, and healthy soldiers picked it up and came back ravished with illness, and the flu spread across the country and back again. People got up healthy in the morning and were dead by nightfall. Those most vulnerable were between the ages of 20 and 40.

There isn’t even a good estimate of how many died; it is believed to be at least 20 million and perhaps 50 million people worldwide, the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history, worse than the Bubonic Plague outbreak from 1347 to 1351 and more than all the deaths in World War I. In the United States one of every four people got sick.

With all our medical knowledge, our vaccines and public information campaigns and our gleaming hospitals, that could not happen again, I thought.

I was wrong.

My sister has been involved with disaster preparedness drills in Ohio in the event of another flu epidemic; she tells me the state is not prepared….

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