Last year at this time I wrote a column expressing thanks to those working around the world to help mitigate the effects of a pandemic.
I've updated that essay to include some new people, and to mention some friends I've met along the way on this journey through Flublogia. I find it encouraging that the list grows longer each year.
Our regular schedule of doom and gloom will continue shortly. In the meantime, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on those who are out there doing good work to try to avert a disaster.
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.
This year, the HHS under the direction of Secretary Leavitt undertook a bold initiative with the 2007 Pandemic Leadership Blog and Summit. I was invited to blog, along with a dozen others, in this project. Since then, Secretary Leavitt has been bitten by the blogging bug, and continues to write a regular column here.
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. People like Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic, and John Oxford, Professor of Virology at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital, and Richard Webby of St. Judes, among others. Names you may never have heard of, unless you follow virology closely.
There are countless people at the CDC, the NIH, the WHO, FAO, and OIE who are working, mostly anonymously and often in less than optimal conditions, to prevent a pandemic. If no pandemic occurs, it will be they to whom we will owe a great debt.
And there are universities and medical centers around the world, like the University of Minnesota and St. Judes Research Hospital, which are major sponsors of influenza and emerging infectious disease research.
It isn't just doctors and scientists however, writers and reporters are also doing their part.
John M. Barry, author of the quintessential book on the 1918 pandemic, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, almost single handedly has reminded us of the horrors of our last great pandemic. If you haven’t read this book, you should. Period.
Dr. Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching has provided us with a compelling, and all too often disturbing look at the factory farming business, and how it contributes to the threat of a pandemic. The entire text is available online, without charge (thank you Dr. Gregor!). I promise you. Read it, and you'll never look at chicken the same way again.
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.
Maryn Mckenna, who now writes often for CIDRAP, has become the rising star among avian flu writers over the past year, but small wonder. Formerly the CDC reporter for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, her inside access to that organization resulted in the best selling science book, Beating Back the Devil in 2004.
Her 7-part series on the Pandemic Vaccine Puzzle is an absolute must-read.
Other notable names include Jason Gale of Bloomberg, Patrick Thibodeau of ComputerWorld, and Maggie Fox health and science editor for Reuters.
Thank you all. We need a hundred more, just like you.
On the Internet we have bloggers, and they too deserve mention. Among them:
Crawford Kilian, author of Crofsblog, was the first, and arguably remains the best flu blogger out there. His site is resource rich, his comments are invariably on target, and his tone is always professional. In short, Crof showed the world how an avian flu blog should be done, and those with any sense have followed his example.
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 each day.
SophiaZoe, my cyber-twin and dear friend, who writes the remarkable Journey Through the World of Pandemic Influenza. One of the outright joys of being a blogger is that I've gotten to meet a number of people in Flublogia. SZ and I have, over the past year or two, become fast friends. She never ceases to amaze me with her encyclopedic knowledge of pandemic issues, and her ability to get to the crux of the matter.
High on my list of people I want to meet is Scott McPherson, although after many months of correspondence, I feel like we are old friends. A fellow Floridian, Scott is well placed in the State's Pandemic planning and rubs elbows with State and Federal officials every day. His insights, often sprinkled with a dash of healthy whimsy, are always a pleasure to read.
A newcomer to the field, S. Edwards, pens Crisis Ready, a blog on creating resilient communities. While just starting on the blogging path, Edwards is no stranger to crisis management, and provides thoughtful commentary and information.
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 sometimes 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.
There are others, of course. And some of the best writing on avian influenza issues comes from people who don't have a regular blog, but post instead to flu forums. While there are many I could mention, I will single out two.
TomDMV can be found on several flu forums, and as a veterinarian is well respected for his medical opinions, particularly on zoonotic diseases. Tom and I correspond on a fairly regular basis, and I appreciate his counsel and his friendship.
Snicklefritz, who graced these pages with a guest blog last June, is well known for his thought provoking essays. I hope Snick, who has an intellect Evil Knieval would have trouble jumping over, will write for my blog again sometime.
And then there are the Newshounds.
Every day, dozens of hardworking volunteer flubies scour foreign language news reports, using search engines, text-finding software, and translating programs to bring us the latest tidbits of news from around the world.
They do an awesome job. If the CIA and the NSA aren't envious, they should be.
It would be impossible to mention them all, and I fear insulting those I miss. But a partial list (in no particular order) of some of the most recently active newshounds includes Theresa42, Dutchy, AlaskaDenise, YieldDude, Treyfish, Commonground, Niko, Laidback Al, Niman, Mojo, dbg, History Lover, bgw in Mt, Cottontop, crfullmoon, Pixie, K from Mi, and Rick.
To those I missed (and there are many), mea culpa.
Some of these newshounds can be found on multiple flu forums, while others stick with one particular homebase. Regardless, the information is freely shared between all of the flu forums, and dissected by knowledgeable and interested parties.
The work they do is remarkable. And I couldn't do much of what I do without them. Thank you all.
The owners and moderators of the flu forums deserve mention, too.
Labors of love, and devourer's of both time and money, flu forums provide a place for laymen and professionals to gather to discuss the various aspects of pandemic planning, and quite often, the science behind influenza and epidemiology. The founders and moderators do a terrific job keeping things on track, and do so without compensation.
There are a number of flu forums out there, but the most popular are Flu Wiki, Flutrackers, PFP, and PFI. Each has their own style and personality, and in many cases, members of one forum belong to several other forums as well.
You'd be hard pressed to find two people who have donated more time to promoting pandemic awareness than these two. Both have traveled extensively, usually on their own nickel, to venues here in the United States and around the world to speak on pandemic issues. And the time they've devoted to the Wiki is incalculable.
Dem and I worked together on the Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog this summer, and lived to tell about it.
And then there are the flubies, which number in the thousands.
Some are active posters on the flu forums, while others take a more passive role. Many have become activists in their communities.
One such person is Indigo Girl, on Allnurses.com who has taken it upon herself to bring pandemic news and information to the healthcare community. Her daily synopsis of avian flu news has brought a keener awareness of pandemic issues to her fellow nurses. In doing so, she is probably saving lives downstream.
A few weeks ago I spotlighted another one of them, Readymom, who recently took the preparedness message to the APHA expo in Washington D.C., along with BroncoBill, and SusanC.
While pioneers, they aren't alone. Readymom has already inspired others to do the same. There are other projects ongoing, some soon to be unveiled, sponsored by flubies to promote awareness and preparation. When they are ready, I will do what I can to promote them in this column.
Behold the power for the flu forums.
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.
It has been an amazing journey, these past couple of years blogging on avian flu. I've been fortunate enough to meet dozens of people, either in person, or via email or chat, from around the world due to this blog. I've collected more than a few good friends along the way.
To all of those who have written me, thank you. And keep them coming.
To SZ, and Crof, and Scott, the Revere's, along with Blitzen, Snick, Corky, Bluesky, Indigo, Redwolf, GR, chacal, hoggie, Fla1 and Seazar, a special holiday thanks to you and your families. You guys, whether you know it or not, help light the path for me every day.
And to everyone else, a safe and happy Holiday.