Today marks the second Pandemic Flu Awareness Week, launched by my colleagues over at The Flu Wiki. The good news is that in the year since the first effort to raise the awareness of the blogosphere, much has happened in the way of increased recognition of the pandemic threat. Communities around the world have started to plan for the possibility of a pandemic and the planning process will pay dividends. More good news is that a pandemic strain of H5N1, the leading candidate for a disastrous flu pandemic, has yet to come into the open. The bad news is that there is much, much more that needs to be done if we are to be even moderately prepared; and while no pandemic strain has yet emerged, the signals coming from the virus are louder, more insistent and more widespread than ever (see our recap here). This year has set a record for new human cases, the virus is geographically more widespread in poultry, and an unknown number of hosts, new and old, are harboring it.
The Flu Wiki itself is only 16 months old but has already established itself as a major presence in the world of internet information resources about avian influenza.
Flu Wiki has compiled information online at www.fluwikie.com. This website, assembled entirely by anonymous volunteers, has been hailed as “the best one-stop resource” by Harvard Business Review [Special Report, Preparing for a Pandemic, May 2006] and called the “Encyclopedia Influenzae” by the prestigious journal Science [Netwatch, Vol. 311. no. 5766, p. 1353, 10 March 2006]. Topics include Q&A’s on flu, why you should take action, essential preparations, effects on schools and travel, what to do if healthcare is not available, how to help your neighbors and community, and more. The public is invited to download and use any of this material. (Press Release for Pandemic Flu Awareness Week)
The Flu Wiki’s objective is to harness the information and intellectual resources of the vast distributed parallel network of human brains that is the internet (and you thought it was a series of tubes?) to work collaboratively to solve the complex inter-related problems widespread morbidity and mortality in our communities would bring:
The purpose of the Flu Wiki is to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic. This is a task previously ceded to local, state and national governmental public health agencies. Our goal is to be:
- a reliable source of information, as neutral as possible, about important facts useful for a public health approach to pandemic influenza
- a venue for anticipating the vast range of problems that may arise if a pandemic does occur
- a venue for thinking about implementable solutions to foreseeable problems
No one, in any health department or government agency, knows all the things needed to cope with an influenza pandemic. But it is likely someone knows something about some aspect of each of them and if we can pool and share our knowledge we can advance preparation for and the ability to cope with events. This is not meant to be a substitute for planning, preparation and implementation by civil authorities, but a parallel effort that complements, supports and extends those efforts.
There is also an “offline” campaign to boost awareness in your community.
Volunteers of the Pandemic Flu Awareness Week campaign will be wearing and distributing red ribbons embossed with gold letters– P (for Pandemic) and A (for Awareness); as well as passing out information cards. The public is invited to participate by making and wearing ribbons from instructions available at Flu Wiki Red Ribbon Pandemic Awareness Campaign. Individuals are encouraged to spread the word in their communities.
We hope we will be doing the same thing next year at this time: preparing for, not coping with or recovering from, pandemic influenza. We can’t see the future. But we can prepare in the present. Calmly, rationally, systematically, conscientiously. While we have the luxury.