Monday, April 12, 2010

Pandemic Good News - Bad News

A year ago this month, the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic swept across Mexico the U.S. and eventually most of the rest of the globe. So far 17,770 people in 213 countries have died and millions sickened. The average age of those who died is 37, compared to an average age of 75 for those who die annually as a result of the seasonal flu.

That’s the bad news!

The good news is ONLY 17,770 people have died so far, compared to 50-million worldwide during the 1918 pandemic, including half-a-million Americans that died in the last four months of 1918 and 70,000 dead as a result of the Asian Flu pandemic in 1957 and 34,000 Americans who died from the Hong Kong Flu in 1968.

Now a small group of scientists and political critics are attacking the World Health Organization (WHO) charging the agency with creating panic and causing governments to stockpile vaccines which were not needed.

The WHO, Monday, said it did not handle the pandemic properly and failed to communicate “uncertainties” about the H1N1 virus and how lethal it might, or might not be.

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's top influenza expert said people “around the world have very high expectations for immediate information. In many ways it is unforgiving out there.”

He’s partly correct. However, it’s not the “people” that want instant answers to every question, it is the media. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pandemic, a mine explosion, a plane crash or any other sudden tragedy, reporters insist on knowing what happened, why and who is responsible, NOW! Most of those answers take time to determine.

And a pandemic is so rare, only one every 30 or 40 years, and they are not predictable and there are so many factors that influence how mild or severe they may be.

Five years ago, here at the Institute for Crisis Management, we began urging our clients and potential clients to plan for a pandemic. I spoke to all kinds of business and professional organizations from Nova Scotia to Sao Paulo, Brazil and from sea to shining sea, stressing the importance of developing a pandemic business crisis plan.

But then, we always encourage organizations of all kinds, to create and maintain crisis operations, communications and business recovery plans.

We still do, and the organizations that have plans are much less likely to experience business ending events, because part of the preparation process is looking for ways to prevent crises and then how to minimize the damage if you cannot avert the disruption.

Those businesses and other organizations that developed pandemic plans are now better prepared to deal with a number of other crisis types, including nuclear and bio-hazard attacks or accidents upwind from their sites or terrorist attacks in or near their locations.

The world has experienced pandemics since at least 1500 and the next one could strike at any time or not for another 30 years. I still believe it’s better to be prepared and nothing happen, than to not be prepared and experience a business-ending event.


  1. Agree fully, Larry. The second-guessing here is an echo of what was experienced over fears of Y2K ruining "the interWebs." In the end, organizations and the public took precautions because of a good (if not overstated) understanding of the risks. That's a much better place to err.

  2. Also, timely, here's an opinion in today's NYT:

    The point made here is that we need to be forward-looking and apply the lessons to future management of viruses.