Wednesday, November 22, 2006


# 220

As we head into this long Thanksgiving Holiday weekend I thought it would be appropriate to give thanks to those who are out there, trying to make a difference in this battle against the H5N1 avian flu threat. You may know some of these people by name, and some by the organizations they represent, while others you may not be aware of at all.

This is, in no way, a complete list. There are far too many good people, doing good work out there to mention. But it’s a start.

So, in no particular order, a tip of the hat and a world of thanks go to:

Michael Leavitt, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for his dedication and passion in spreading the message via his visits to all 50 states, that pandemics happen, and another will happen in the future. You’ve urged awareness and preparation, and will undoubtedly save many lives by having done so.

It hasn’t been an easy job, Mr. Secretary, and along the way you’ve been the brunt of jokes by late night comedians, but the message is an important one, and you’ve delivered it well. I sincerely hope, when the next pandemic happens, people remember that you were out there early, telling us a truth that few wanted us to know.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of CIDRAP, the Center for Infectious Disease Reporting and Policy. Dr. Osterholm has achieved near rock star status in the flu world, and rightfully so. Before devoting his attentions to CIDRAP, Dr. Osterholm served for 24 years (1975-1999) in various roles at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the last 15 as state epidemiologist and chief of the Acute Disease Epidemiology Section

He is, as they say, a heavy hitter. And his lectures on the threat of an Avian Flu pandemic, his writings, and his appearance on Oprah have brought bird flu awareness to millions of people. Dr. Osterholm has the ability to deliver his ominous message while retraining his credibility, and given the subject matter, that is quite an achievement.

Dr. David Nabarro, Senior United Nations system Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza. Formerly one of the worlds top public health officials with WHO (World Health Organization), Dr. Nabarro has led the fight at the UN on the Avian flu front, and has pulled no punches in his assessments of the threat it poses.

Dr. Nabarro has fought tirelessly to prepare the nations of the world for a coming pandemic, and given the tangled and often conflicted agendas of international politics, his may be the toughest job of them all. While it often too easy to find faults with organizations like the UN and WHO, Dr. Nabarro proves that there are good and decent leaders out there. And for that, I am particularly thankful.

Dr. Robert G. Webster, perhaps the world’s most famous virologist, and the head of the virology department of St. Jude’s Research Hospital. In addition to his life long study of viral pathogens, and the numerous papers he has produced, Dr. Webster was perhaps the first scientist to recognize the threat of the H5N1 virus in Hong Kong 10 years ago, and is largely responsible for the eradication of the threat at that time. He quite likely saved the world from a pandemic a decade ago.

Today, Dr. Webster continues his research, and reminds us of the stark realities of what a pandemic could bring the world. His message hasn’t always been popular, and he has undoubtedly stepped on some toes along the way, but this mild mannered man is a superhero in disguise. He’s already saved the world once, and may well be our last best hope to do it again.

The list of doctors and researchers is extensive, and there are many unsung heroes among them. Many work quietly in the background, but their contributions are no less valuable. To all of them, go my thanks.

John M. Barry, author of the quintessential book on the 1918 pandemic, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, who almost single handedly has reminded us of the horrors of our last great pandemic. If you haven’t read this book, you should. Period.

Helen Branswell, health reporter for the Canadian Press. If anyone in the field of journalism deserves the Paul Revere Award, it is Ms. Branswell. She has produced some of the finest reportage on the emergence of the H5N1 virus as exists anywhere, and she started back when few had heard of the threat. Her writing is clear, concise, and absent of the breathless prose that many lesser journalists rely upon. She is a breath of fresh air in the field of mainstream media.

Thank you. We need a hundred more, just like you.

The Reveres, anonymous authors of Effect Measure, which has my nomination as the best public health blog on the Internet. Don’t be put off by their anonymity, these guys (or gals) are the real deal. They have the ability to explain the science of avian influenza (and other health threats) better than anyone else in the blogosphere. If you want to know what this humble author reads, you should know that Effect Measure is at the top of my list.

Dr. Henry Niman, whose theories on recombination may or may not be valid, but who has been a continual thorn in the side of an often too complacent scientific community. His continual calls for the release of the H5N1 genetic sequences, and transparency and disclosure by all parties on what we really know about this pathogen, are invaluable.

Sure, I know he’s abrasive, and often cryptic. He often divides the flubie community, with his supporters on one side and his detractors on the other. And his theories are either far ahead of the rest of the scientific world, or complete nonsense. But he holds the feet of agencies like the CDC, WHO, and the UN to the fire each and every day, and we are better off for that.

Melanie, DemfromCt, Pogge, and Anon-22, moderators of the Fluwiki; one of the first, and today one of the largest, of the Internet Flu forums. While their site has experienced growing pains over the past 6 months, they still remain one of the best resources of pandemic flu information on the web. Over the next couple of weeks they will be changing over to a new software package, and with luck, their technical problems will be behind them. Highly recommended.

The many other flu forums on the Internet, of which I consider PlanForPandemic to be one of the best. Formed by refugees from another forum, which shall go unnamed, SZ, Spoon, Bannor, and Fahfrd have put together a safe harbor for netizens who want their pandemic flu information without an abundance of hysteria. While I belong to several flu forums, this is the place I generally hang my hat.

And of course, the blogosphere, where literally hundreds of Internet authors like myself analyze, criticize, and expound on the avian flu threat. Places like Crofsblog, Monotreme’s Pandemic Flu Information, and SophiaZoe’s blog give varied, often controversial assessments of the rapidly changing avian flu story. Were it not for people like these, the public would only get the pasteurized, homogenized, prepackaged message that our officials want us to hear.

Often forgotten, I also send out thanks to all who wear the uniform of our country, and who will be called upon to be on the front lines during a pandemic. This includes our military and national guard troops, both at home and abroad. You guys and gals do a tough, often thankless job, 365 days a year; and are deserving of both our respect and our nation's gratitude.

Please know, you have mine.

There are hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, technicians, EMT's, paramedics, firefighters, and law enforcement officers out there who put it on the line each and every day. I'm proud to have been able to be a part of that universe. And my thanks, and fervent best wishes go out to each of you.

And of course, thanks go to the readers of these forums and blogs. There are far more of you out there than you imagine. Those that post on flu forums, or comment on blog sites are just the tip of the iceberg. Ninety percent of our visitors read and absorb the information here, and say nothing. We know you are out there because our web counter software logs every visit.

No, I’m not going to `out' anyone. Your secret is safe with me.

But even this humble blog gets visits every day from dozens of corporations, government agencies, financial institutions, and even medical research facilities. Names that you would readily recognize. And that is both extremely gratifying and humbling at the same time.

Thank you for being a part of all of this.

Lastly, to the flubie community in general, many of whom I have come to know and think of as family. It is never easy being a voice crying in the wilderness, and knowing I am not alone eases the burden. There are far too many of you to mention by name, but you know who you are.

Hopefully a year from now, I’ll be able to give thanks once again, and will also be able to be thankful that the pandemic hasn’t happened, as I am this year.

Over the next several days I’ll be joining a group of flubies, folks I consider part of my extended family, for Thanksgiving on Ft. Myers Beach. It should be a joyful gathering of kindred spirits.

Thank you, Seazar for both your friendship and your generosity for making this possible.

While I will have Internet access, and may post from time to time, unless there is breaking news, this blog will be fairly quiet until early next week. I expect to be in a turkey tryptophan-induced coma for the next couple of days.

To all of my readers, I wish a safe, and happy holiday.

And to all whom I have mentioned today, and with apologies to any I have overlooked, you have my respect, and enduring thanks.



Your Cyber Twin Sister said...

And I will add Fla_Medic to the list of brave and tireless souls who help to shine light on the issue of a potential PanFlu.

FM, I have learned so much from you and while sometimes I have had tears sting my eyes before finishing one of your posts, many times you have been able to teach me and make me heartily laugh as well. And when I'm stressing over PanFlu issues laughing is good! Brings me back to one of the reasons we do this work.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

DemFromCT said...

Good to hear from you, and I share your sentiments! Since you brought it up, the next Flu Wiki Forum is here, still in beta, but opening friday.

Come take a sneak peek!! And be well!!!

pogge said...

You're most welcome. Thanks for the kind words.

peter said...

here's video that i shot from a great panel discussion on the avian flu:

this was from the encorium avian flu symposium in philadelphia.


Wulfgang said...


Nice note of acknowledgement to all the tireless people who are dedicated to raising the awareness of avian flu. Yes, indeed, there are many of us out here in cyberspace who walk the shadows. From whence we come, and go, nobody will know.

The messages and warnings being sent by many is well worth heeding.


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