This is my third Thanksgiving blogging about the pandemic threat. In November of 2006 I began what has turned out to be a joyous tradition for me - taking the time to publicly acknowledge and thank those working to prevent, or at least mitigate, the next pandemic.
Each year I update this essay to include some new people, and to mention 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 short Thanksgiving Holiday week it is a good time to give thanks to those who are out there, trying to make a difference in this battle against the pandemic 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, to mention them all.
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.
Last 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 himself, and continues to write a regular column here.
This year, the HHS invited several bloggers to Washington D.C. to take part in a day-long pandemic tabletop exercise along side representatives from the HHS, CDC, Homeland Security, State Department, State and local Health Departments, and print and broadcast journalism.
At this conference I was delighted to meet and talk with Secretary Leavitt's Science advisor Dr. William Raub, Dr. Dan Jernigan of the CDC, and John Lange, the State Department's Special Representative, Avian and Pandemic Influenza - among others.
As I wrote last March:
These people, from the Secretary of the HHS on down, are all very human and likable. Were it not for their name tags or rank insignia on their uniforms, you'd never have guessed you were speaking with high ranking officials.
It was a remarkable experience, and I'd be remiss if I didn't publicly thank Stephanie Marshall, Director of Pandemic Communications for the HHS, and Christina Pearson, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, for their work at the HHS and for repeatedly reaching out to members of the online flu community.
In January Secretary Leavitt will step down and a new Secretary (reportedly Tom Daschle) will take the reins of the HHS. Secretary Leavitt will move on to other challenges, but he will be long remembered for his role in starting our nation on the road towards pandemic preparedness.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of CIDRAP, the Center for Infectious Disease Reporting and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
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 calmly and creditably, and given the subject matter, that is quite an achievement.
Readers of this blog no doubt have noticed that I reference the work of CIDRAP often.
The reason is simple: They are very good at what they do.
The reporting from CIDRAP News is always first rate, with most of the heavy lifting done by Editor Robert Roos, and news reporter Lisa Schnirring. Freelance writer and blogger Maryn McKenna is also a frequent contributor.
Maryn's 7-part award winning series on the Pandemic Vaccine Puzzle is an absolute must-read.
CIDRAP also issues comprehensive reports on public health related subjects, such as the recent Pandemic Influenza, Electricity, and the Coal Supply Chain by Nick Kelley, MSPH and Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH.
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.
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. Agencies like USAID and UNICEF are also working to help nations around the world combat the avian flu threat.
If no pandemic occurs, it will be likely due to their's and other's combined efforts.
And there are universities and medical centers around the world; places like the University of Minnesota, St. Judes Research Hospital, UPMC Center For Biosecurity, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston which are major sponsors of influenza and emerging infectious disease research - along with many others.
And in local and state health departments, and Emergency Operations Centers (EOC's) across the nation there are thousands of people working to prepare for a pandemic or public health emergency.
I can't salute all of them, of course, but by highlighting one perhaps we can remember that a lot of preparedness work is going on in our communities, even if we aren't hearing about it every day.
The Southeastern District Health Department in Pocatello, Idaho held an innovative BlogEx Internet Pandemic Exercise this year. Darin Letzring, the All Hazards Planner for the SDHD, helped create the exercise and moderated the website. You can find more than a dozen blog entries on the BlogEx exercise in the AFD July Archive.
It isn't just doctors and scientists however, writers and reporters are also doing their part as well.
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. Greger!).
I promise you. Read it, and you'll never look at chicken the same way again. Always an informative and entertaining lecturer, click here to view an abridged version of Dr. Greger's Bird Flu presentation.
Craig Delouie the author of The Thin White Line: A History of the 2012 Avian Flu Pandemic in Canada which I reviewed favorably here. Written like a future text-book, The Thin White Line gives a chilling fictional look at what a future pandemic might look like. The author has now made a free version of the book available that you can read online here.
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.
Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor for Reuters, is another standout in the world of journalism. Her reporting on the pandemic threat (along with a myriad of other topics) has been consistently excellent.
Ms. Fox has an advantage over many of her colleagues in that she understands the science, having completed fellowships at the National Institutes of Health on Genomics, at Harvard Medical School on infectious disease, and at the University of Maryland on child and family health policy. And it shows.
Maryn Mckenna, who now writes often for CIDRAP, has become the rising star among avian flu writers over the past couple of years, 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.
Maryn is currently working on a book about MRSA, and her blog Superbug serves as a virtual whiteboard for her research on that topic.
Declan Butler, senior reporter for Nature, and blogger, who very early on called the attention of the world to the pandemic threat, and who has used Google Earth to great effect mapping avian flu outbreaks around the world.
Other notable names include Jason Gale of Bloomberg, Patrick Thibodeau of ComputerWorld, Robin McDowell of the AP, and Emmy Fitri of the Jakarta Post. There are others of course.
Thank you all. We need a hundred more, just like you.
On the Internet we have a number of flu/Public Health/Preparedness bloggers that frequently provide both news and analysis.
Crawford Kilian, author of Crofsblog, has been covering avian flu since early 2005 and is rightfully regarded as the Dean of Flu Bloggers. 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 Pandemic Chronicle. 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 three years, 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.
Another blogger I've had the great fortune to meet, and work with, is DemFromCt, editor of the Flu Wiki and a blogger on the Daily Kos. We've worked together on three projects so far; The 2007 HHS Pandemic Leadership Blog, the 2008 Pandemic Tabletop Exercise, and are both contributors to GetPandemicReady.Org.
High on my list of people I still want to meet is Scott McPherson, although after two years 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 healthy dash of whimsy, are always a pleasure to read.
Dr. Henry Niman, whose theories on recombination are way above my pay grade, has been a frequent spur in the flanks 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 and appreciated.
Indigo Girl, on Allnurses.com has taken it upon herself to bring pandemic news and information to the healthcare community. Her synopsis of avian flu news has brought a keener awareness of pandemic issues to thousands of her fellow nurses. In doing so, she is undoubtedly saving lives downstream.
Joel at Preparedness and Response writes based on his private and professional experience in the areas of preparedness and response. He covers public health and emergency management issues.
Catherine `Jackie' Mitchell of Prepared Citizens, writes her heartfelt faith-based preparedness commentary for her hometown of Monson, and for a larger national audience as well.
And newcomer Ma Yingshen does a terrific job collecting and assembling news about emerging infectious diseases on her blog Chen Qi- A Morning Fresh Breeze.
We also said goodbye to Orange, who after 1,245 posts, decided to bring the curtain down on The Coming Influenza Pandemic? One of the pioneering flu bloggers, Orange's contributions will always be appreciated and will certainly be missed.
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 more recently active newshounds includes Dutchy, Ironorehopper, Treyfish, Commonground, Niman, Florida1, DemFromCt, SusanC, Kobie, Carol@SC, Pixie, mojo, bgw in MT, Readymom, pugmom, Frenchiegirl, AlohaOr, UK-Bird, Rick, Canada Sue, Theresa42, Mosaic, Cottontop, Influentia2, Mojo, Michelle in OK, Mary In Hawaii, dbg, flubergasted, Laidback Al, Alaska Denise, Siam, InKy, History Lover . . .
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 home base. 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. Most of the time, the costs (which can run into the hundreds of dollars each month) are borne by the owners.
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.
The Flu Wiki, the first of the dedicated flu forums, was founded by DemFromCt, Pogge, and Melanie Mattson. This year, we lost Melanie after a long illness. She was a pioneer, and an activist, and is greatly missed.
You can read more about her, and her legacy, here.
FluTrackers, founded by Sharon Sanders (but run with the aid of dozens of tireless volunteer moderators), boasts nearly 2,000 members and prides themselves on maintaining an impressive library of scientific literature on pandemic influenza and other emerging infectious diseases.
Also in French is Francophones des FluTrackers, which is a section of Flutrackers, moderated by Muscade, Éditeur et Directeur.
There are other non-English language flu forums as well, such as Zone Grippe Aviaire H5N1 en français which is run by Lyro out of Quebec. This forum provides translations of many news articles, and blogs, into the French language along with commentary.
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.
The Readymom's organization, now led by Dr. Susan Chu (Flu Wiki Emeritus), not only appears at public venues promoting pandemic preparedness, they have free downloadable toolkits available so than anyone can help spread the message in their community.
Starting in mid-2007, more than a dozen volunteers worked to put together the GetPandemicReady.Org website. There you will find more than 3 dozen easy-to-follow preparedness guides, written by some pretty familiar names from the Flu Forums.
This site is hosted by the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Board of Commissioners, and came about in large part due the hard work of Mel Johnson, Director of Emergency Management.
And StudentsPrepAmerica.Org was created by Justin Kamen and others at Columbia University, and is designed to get the preparedness word out to College and University Students.
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 three 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.
And lastly, a special thank you (in no particular order) to those people in the Flu Community who have gone out of their way to extend kindness, friendship, and counsel to this old medic.
To SZ, and Crof, and Scott, the Revere's, Camille, Sharon, Maryn, Lisa & Nick at CIDRAP, Dr. Michael Greger, DemFromCt, chacal, Stephanie, Sally, Emmy, Maggie Fox, Jackie, Karen, Cliff, Mel, Susan, Anne, Blitzen, Snick, Corky, TomDMV, Gary The Fire Dude, Bluesky, Redwolf, GR, hoggie, Seazar, Paul, Joel, Craig, Graeme AnnieRn, and Bonnie (and many more I've no doubt left out) 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.