Well, at some level, you should be worrying now. This is serious. But there are a lot of other things you should be worried about as well, such as the nuclear threat and, if you live in tornado alley, tornadoes. But when do you have to start paying attention to current information, bulletins, and so on, and to perhaps start planning to alter your behavior (like, not going to Mexico, or wearing around a mask and staying in the house, or perhaps something in between)?


The World Health Organization (WHO) has a threat level system. The lowest threat level is 1, the highest is at 6. The good news is that we are currently only at level 3, which means you should not be worried. The bad news is that some experts think we should be at level 4 already, and as far as I can tell they are correct. Which may make us worry about WHO more than it does about the flu…

Level 3 means that there is no or limited human to human transmission of a flu virus. Since the vast majority of flu viruses are non-human, and the most dangerious ones to humans are those that primarily originate from non humans, or have genetic components that originated from non-humans and are able to spread form humans to humans, as the amount of human to human spread increases the threat level goes up.

So Level 4 is for “increased” human to human spread, and Level 5 is “significant” human to human transmission. We are probably at level 4 because there are apparently dozens of human cases of fatal results out of hundreds (a few hundred, perhaps) cases of a novel flu virus.

It is also notable that this flu affects those who are most likely to be immune or resistant to the more run of the mill flu viruses. This is the hallmark of a new genetic combination that humans are are highly susceptible to.

But even at level 4, you should probably not worry too much. Rather, you should be concerned about the possibility that you will have to start worrying soon, maybe. This could fizzle out over the next couple of weeks, or it could expand. If we go to Level 5, start to worry. If we get to Level 6, put on the mask.

I recommend subscribing to the RSS feeds of a couple of sites:

Effect Measure

H5N1

Comments

  1. #1 Omphaloskepsis
    April 24, 2009

    I just read that many of the people affected are healthy young adults, not the elderly, young or already ill. Is that considered a factor in determining the level?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    April 25, 2009

    It could be a factor in determining the level in that if the mid-agre range healthy people are getting it, then transmission is easier.

  3. #3 Crystal D.
    April 25, 2009

    Sometime during the whole ‘avian flu’ thing, someone at work suggested that we start purchasing body bags because if there was ever an epidemic, there would be a shortage of body bags, and we would need them for all of the dead piling up.

    Let’s just say that I refuse to go quite that far in planning and preparing for anything, it seems a wee bit odd to me. :) I did vote that we not purchase any body bags at this time…

  4. #4 Katharine
    April 25, 2009

    I’m not worried.

    Provided border control has an adequate response to this and the US and Mexico work together to contain the disease, I think we’ll be okay.

    Mexico is not the third world. It’s not first world, but it’s not Zimbabwe. Provided people are going to the border, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Torreon have an important part to play in this, as they are situated along Mexico’s three main routes to the border. Also, the US and Canada have an interest in making sure Mexico is secure, so I would advocate sending, perhaps, some humanitarian aid health workers down there to provide assistance and drugs to the overtaxed Mexicans.

    I’m not saying the response will be perfect, but there is a way to combat it.

  5. #5 Nathan Myers
    April 26, 2009

    Katharine: I can’t tell if you’re joking.

  6. #6 Wayne Conrad
    April 26, 2009

    “Provided border control has an adequate response to this and the US and Mexico work together to contain the disease, I think we’ll be okay.”

    The U.S./Mexican border is, although tightly regulated by law, essentially open. If border control “closes the borders,” that only means closing the official entry points. The unlawful traffic cannot be stopped using current border patrol staffing: otherwise, it already would be.

  7. #7 Bryn Davies
    April 26, 2009

    Where on earth did people get the idea that the physical border is going to be the big deal here? Your problem is high speed transport (so travelers remain asymptomatic while traveling) in cramped environments with closed air supplies – aeroplanes.

  8. #8 Hilary
    April 26, 2009

    Yes very american-centric response Katharine. Cracking down on the US/Mexico border is not going to help the rest of the world, where people are far more likely to have been flying to/from Mexico

  9. #9 sff
    April 27, 2009

    Well, would cutting off air travel to Mexico help?

  10. #10 Monado
    May 29, 2009

    I got ready for SARS by life-insuring my credit card debt. It had a very bad prognosis for people over 50.