I have just returned from a week's vacation, a vacation that I was without internet and very little news, so I am hopelessly behind. I was supposed to have at least dial-up access but alas, either my husband lied to me to get me on the plane or he totally misunderstood the setup we were to be in. We went to Higgins Lake, Michigan for the annual reunion of my husband's childhood friends, every year we gather somewhere "new and exciting".
I do not fly very often, finding it to be grueling and just generally an unpleasant experience, but this year we chose to fly instead of drive due to the distance. We flew in and out of international airport of Detroit, MI, a huge, bustling monstrosity. As I wound my way through the process of flying I took special note of how difficult it is to traverse an airport and airplane without touching any number of surfaces, even when I made extraordinary efforts to not touch anything. The counters, ex-ray conveyor trays, escalators, powered walkways, seats, overhead compartment doors, were all surfaces that I ended up touching at one time or another.
The other thing that struck me as a neophyte flyer was the number and duration of human bottlenecks during the entire process. Being physically jostled, bumped, and generally crowded.
We were lucky; there were no young children on our flights. The flight to Detroit had a few older children and the flight home had no children at all, no doubt due to the late hour. Since young children have been identified as major influenza virus shedders I was pleased that they were not present in great numbers.
My experiences at the airports brought home why we are at risk of a rapid spreading of any transmissible virus, a risk not seen in previous pandemics or even epidemics; we are a people on the move. Serendipitously, this from USAToday…
GENEVA (AP) — A ballooning world population, intensive farming practices and changes in sexual behavior have provided a breeding ground for an unprecedented number of emerging diseases, the U.N. health agency said Thursday. And with an estimated 2.1 billion airline passengers roaming the planet last year alone, infectious diseases are spreading faster than ever before.
New diseases are emerging at the unprecedented rate of one per year, the World Health Organization said. There are 39 new pathogens that were unknown a generation ago, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Though advances in science could account for the discovery of existing pathogens that were previously unidentified, WHO epidemics expert Dr. Mike Ryan said changes in human behavior and practices have produced more new diseases.
"We've seen a shift in trend that reflects a transition of human civilization," Ryan said. "The relationship to the animal kingdom, our travel, our social, sexual and other behaviors have changed the nature of our relationship with the microbial world and the result of that is the emergence of new pathogens and the spread of those pathogens around the world."
He noted that in the late 19th century, scientists discovered a range of agents causing ancient scourges such as anthrax, staphylococcus, tuberculosis and tetanus.
In the 1970s and 80s it wasn't pathogens experts were discovering but new syndromes: children getting sick with rashes and fever in the suburban areas of the Americas, people suffering from liver and renal disease after consuming undercooked meat.
"We've urbanized a world. We have moved people and food around that world at ever increasing speed," Ryan said. "We're not saying that's a bad thing. What we're saying is that we must recognize the risk we create in the process and invest to manage those risks."
WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said one of the changes affecting human health was increasingly intensive poultry farming, which may account for the global spread of bird flu.
"It should not come as a surprise that we are seeing more and more disease outbreaks coming from the animal sector," Chan said.
She said the majority of the 39 new diseases came from animals, including Ebola, SARS, or bird flu.
Today, high volumes of people can quickly travel worldwide, meaning an outbreak or epidemic in any part of the planet is only a few hours away from becoming an imminent threat somewhere else, the report said. Over the past five years, WHO has confirmed more than 1,100 outbreaks worldwide of diseases such as cholera, polio and bird flu.
Much of WHO's annual report on the state of the world's health was designed to convince governments to adhere to new, tighter International Health Regulations, providing the basis for the world to cooperate in combating frightening diseases.
The revised health regulations came into effect in June. They govern how countries should report potentially dangerous health emergencies to WHO.
While they are meant to improve disease reporting worldwide, it is uncertain how much influence they actually have. For example, earlier this year, American officials anxiously tracked the European whereabouts of a U.S. lawyer believed to have a highly dangerous form of tuberculosis.
International officials eventually identified the roughly 127 people thought to have been exposed to his illness during two trans-Atlantic flights. But it was only after the lawyer had left Europe that U.S. officials informed WHO and other countries of the event — and they were powerless to act. The lawyer later turned out to have a less serious form of the disease.
WHO's annual report also urges countries to share viruses to help develop vaccines and to tighten domestic efforts to combat disease outbreaks.
But an ongoing battle with Indonesia, the nation hardest hit by the H5N1 bird flu, has yet to be resolved. Indonesia has been reluctant to share its samples with WHO, repeatedly demanding assurances that any pandemic vaccines developed would be affordable for developing nations.
In an effort to lure back tourists, Jakarta recently sent samples to WHO, but it is unclear whether it will continue to share.
China stopped sharing H5N1 specimens with WHO for almost a year before finally sending samples in June, while Vietnam said it sent samples but has encountered shipping road blocks.
The world is different from the one I was born into. The changes have been mostly for the good, but with the good we must accept the bad. And to think, twenty years ago Infectious Disease as a medical career was declared a dead end, now it seems to be a growth industry.