Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking for good info on swine flu (and other public health subjects?) Try the blog Effect Measure


Richard Besser, acting director
of the Centers for Disease Control

"One big thing to know was emphasized by Acting CDC Director Richard Besser at the White House briefing yesterday: the influenza virus is highly unpredictable and our certain knowledge of it very scant. If you've seen one flu pandemic, you've seen one flu pandemic."
-- from this morning's Effect Measure post on the swine flu situation
(note: the writer is
not suggesting that we are in a pandemic)

by Ken

The swine flu outbreak has a lot of us scrambling for information (here's a link to CNN's video of yesterday's White House press briefing at which the Dept. of Health and Human Services declared a national health emergency), and I confess I wouldn't have known where to turn for good public health info. So I'm pleased now to be able to suggest Effect Measure, which describes itself as "a forum for progressive public health discussion and argument as well as a source of public health information from around the Web that interests the editor(s)."

On-site we get some additional explanation:
The Editors of Effect Measure are senior public health scientists and practitioners. Paul Revere was a member of the first local Board of Health in the United States (Boston, 1799). The Editors sign their posts "Revere" to recognize the public service of a professional forerunner better known for other things.

This morning's entry, for example, "Swine flu: what did you expect?," is an invaluable guide to the questions we're actually asking, and should be asking, even for those of us who don't really know what we mean to ask.

Answers are more elusive, but at least Revere explains why. For example:
Another thing that most people and probably most clinicians expect is that we know a lot about influenza. Perhaps because of the increased scientific interest since bird flu (an increased interest which will pay off handsomely in this outbreak, by the way) we do know quite a bit, but we also now know many of the things we thought we knew about flu, like the main ways it is transmitted from person to person, we don't really know.

In the world of the 24-hour news cycle, it often happens that even the best experts (assuming the news cyclists have any clue who they might be) don't know the answers. At this point there are two quite different approaches to "covering" the event:

(a) You can have genuine experts frame the correct question(s) as intelligently as possible and explain what the limits of our present knowledge are and how that is likely to evolve, or --

(b) You can have robo-anchors with functional IQs lower than their pets' speculate mindlessly, or put their empty heads together for some mindless chat-speculation, or find someone who might actually know something and browbeat that poor soul with "would you say that" questions which then provide the basis for sky's-the-limit extrapolative speculation.

I'll leave it to you to guess which approach Effect Measure takes. Another nice thing about the blog is that it appears to be read by smart people who actually know stuff about the subject(s) and can actually add information in the comments.


In the days, weeks, and months ahead we're going to learn a whole lot more than we knew or wanted to know about swine flu and flu epidemics and emergency preparedness. Already, alas, it appears that a good deal of what we learn is going to target the know-nothing shitheadism of the slash-and-burn loons of the Right.

Environmentalists have been screaming for years about the public-health menace of the multidimensional public health hazard of those giant animal-growing "factories" in which most of our commercial chickens and pigs are now raised, producing not only sicker and sicker animals, which are therefore shot up with larger and larger doses of antibiotics (further contaminating not just the animals but the already-toxic waste they produce), but also massive sites that are unfit for human habitation and humongous problems of toxic sludge entering local water supplies.

The punchline here is that research into the very problems of swine "culture" was one of the things the witty wags of the Right roundly ridiculed. It was right up there with Governor Booby's hilarious send-up of spending money to study -- can you imagine? -- volcanoes!

Food specialists also point out that our "improved" food-producing technology, introduced in the process of converting what used to be our agriculture industry into the megaworld of agribusiness, has in fact created a dual nightmare, as a result of separating animals from agricultural land. Once upon a time the animals' manure went directly into fertilizer for the crops. Once the two became separated, however, the animal wastes turned into an increasingly unmanageable crisis of toxic-waste disposal, and fertilizing crop-growing land required increasing dependence on dangerous chemicals, still further compounding the risk factor of the food that reaches our markets as well as the toxic-waste disposal problem.


Then there's the question of how prepared we are to cope with a public-health emergency. On the plus side, at least we no longer have Chimpy the Prez and his team of death-dealing clowns on the job. It is, as we learned during the eight grim years of the Bush regime, with its all-out war on human intelligence in all forms, and above all in the form of science, a root principle of the Loony Right that emergency preparedness is irrelevant to government, and in any event can't be accomplished by government, because government is incompetent. And the Loony Rightists have no trouble proving that government is incompetent when they are the government.

This morning on The Nation's blog The Beat, John Nichols posted an item that begins:

GOP Know-Nothings Fought Pandemic Preparedness
posted by John Nichols on 04/27/2009 @ 08:00am

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse -- with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans -- led by Maine Senator Susan Collins -- aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

Now, as the World Health Organization says a deadly swine flu outbreak that apparently began in Mexico but has spread to the United States has the potential to develop into a pandemic, Obey's attempt to secure the money seems eerily prescient.

And his partisan attacks on his efforts seem not just creepy, but dangerous. . . .

Nichols points out that what we have now is by no means a pandemic. However, does anyone believe that that money devoted to pandemic-preparation wouldn't have come in mighty handy right about now?


HHS Secretary-in-waiting Kathleen Sebelius

Politico reports that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) "has launched an online petition criticizing Republicans for delaying the confirmation of a Health and Human Services secretary in the face of a swine flu outbreak."
The union accuses Senate Republicans of delaying the confirmation of nominee Kathleen Sebelius to “curry favor with extremist outside groups” and depriving the department of leadership as the nation confronts a potential flu pandemic.

“This is simply unacceptable,” the union says on its website. “This disease is spreading as we speak, but right now, a Bush-appointed accountant is running the department. We need an HHS secretary NOW. Sign the petition telling the Senate to vote immediately to confirm Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. If we don't act, the swine flu might just turn into another Hurricane Katrina.”

Senate Democrats attempted to fast-track Sebelius during the first week of April, but Republicans raised objections, saying her nomination needed to follow regular order. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attempted to schedule a vote Wednesday but was again thwarted.

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At 9:17 AM, Blogger Daro said...

One complaint (amongst many!) of capitalism and the global economy is the disastrous descent into vast swaythes of monoculture. The cheapest area for a particular product's output becomes an intensive field of produce all being of the few types that maximizes production in the pursuit of profits.

So we have ended up with acres and acres of intensive agro-biz farms with the narrow range of optimal pig species creating an explosive hotspot for disease. The profit motive has no memory and cannot factor in lessons from the past like the Irish Potato Famine that killed millions when blight hit that single strain of food being mass grown.

Lax enforcement of regulations and political corruption in Mexico are just the symptom of the naked greed of Corpo-Companies bribing or cajoling the turning of a blind eye to safe practices in the demand for cheap resources (here - pork).

Once again the mantra is privatize the profits and socialize the losses. I'm sure some hapless pig farmer in Mexico will be held up as the scapegoat. I pre-empt by acknowledging pork doesn't spread the disease, but the industrial farms surely did. So the blame, I suggest, lies with the feckless politicians on both sides of the border who rammed the whole NAFTA deal and other corporate friendly policies for their global hegemony.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks for expanding on the agro-biz problem, Daro. It's something most of us don't think about much.

And here, of course, it's not just the Shithead Right that's served as enabler and cheerleader -- there's plenty of political blame to go around, just as there's been plenty of blame to go around.

Howie always tells me that the worst, most corrupt committees in Congress are the two ag committees, where nearly everybody can be assumed to be on the take.


At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Lee said...


like the Jeff Goldblum character espouses in Jurassic Park, you can't control nature. But shitheads who only see profit had no idea about the golum they created with factory farms.Did you see Death on a factory Farm? I no longer eat meat because of watching it

I just back from shopping at Trader Joes. They no longer sell any food from China and the guy at the check out told me he's thinking customers are not going to want to buy foods from Mexico

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Max said...

I like the way that you explain how people are covering the swine flu. I saw a video that breaks down the coverage of the flu from a global perspective,

At 11:10 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Just to clarify my previous response, when I said that "there's plenty of political blame to go around, just as there's been plenty of blame to go around," what I meant to say is that
"there's plenty of political blame to go around, just as there's been plenty of money to go around."

I certainly understand what you're saying, Lee. I just have a pretty strong stomach, as long as I don't know too much, so when it comes to the food supply, I kind of work at not knowing too much. It does kind of shrink your culinary options, doesn't it?

And thanks for the link, Max.


At 12:59 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Money, Money, Money. The honey money bees strike again. When going for the money you get a reaction and resultant. They exist in every case. It is imperative that we look at these side affects before embarking on any course of action. Going straight for the money has become humanities main goal in life . The reaction to putting too many pigs in one place are piles of shit which results in Contaminated water, air and pigs. The same is true of chickens. The stock holders on long island pay no attention as long as the profits and dividends keep coming in. Out of sight out of mind. The manipulator brokers sell the stock so they too can make money off of this. For the folks living near these ecological disasters who are exposed to the smell and pollution they get told to shut up as money is being made, pork chops and eggs are cheap. The politicians who write the rules and regulations are all bribed by those making the money. If and when an international flu epidemic results from these unnatural animal raising schemes the real cost to humanity becomes known and we find out the true cost of the pork chops or eggs.

The goal should be to find the most healthy ways of producing food. Not how to make the most money doing it.

Making money and making sense are mutually exclusive. Humanity must begin making sense in order to avoid extinction.


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