The Sunday Times Online in the UK reports on Pandemic fear as bird flu infects nurses in Vietnam.
(The Sunday Times link doesn't work any more, but never mind.)
Eight years and almost 29,000 posts later, I admit I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
For some time I'd been following news reports about this strange bird flu, and I thought that blogging about it would be a good way to teach myself. And it certainly has, though I am still no expert on avian influenzas.
As I surfed around looking for stories and useful websites, I became aware of what we now call Flublogia—a growing worldwide community of people with an interest in H5N1 in particular and infectious diseases in general. It includes health workers, journalists, government and NGO officials, and laypersons like me. Unlike many online communities, this one is largely free of political trolls; I know some flu forums have had their problems, but my own experience has been the pleasure of dealing with informed, concerned adults. Highly cooperative adults, too—they send me useful links, alert me to new outbreaks and correct me when I'm wrong.
Of course I have no personal expertise in this field; epidemiology is not required for teachers of business communication. But I try to choose my sources carefully, and to criticize only when I could see a factual error, or a crucial omission, or a lapse in logic. Whatever credibility I have is thanks to that approach, and it's also why I've never run ads on this site except for my own books and for The Tyee. I can vouch for the quality of those items, but I cringe at the thought of Google Ads plunking some Viagra ad here just because I've posted about a sexually transmitted disease.
I've also had an education in how governments and health agencies deal with both diseases and politics. Usually they do well on both scores, though sometimes, as with Haiti, politics seems to overcome medicine. In general, my admiration for the people working in those agencies is immense. They're the soldiers in a war that never ends.
Inevitably, my online education led me away from the narrow subject of one rare kind of influenza. Especially after H1N1 blindsided us all, I realized the entire system was my real subject. Whether we got hit with bird flu, swine flu, or some less glamorous illness like malaria, the global healthcare system had to deal with it. It might look like mission creep, but it's really just an expanded scope (and a lot more work).
So I've learned about obscure diseases like leishmaniasis and Chagas, and about widespread diseases like dengue that we in the temperate zone usually ignore. And that in turn has taught me that many of us calmly ignore diseases that don't threaten us personally. I try not to get mad about it; it's just politics, after all, and politics is just medicine on a large scale. (But Haiti often makes me lose my temper, regardless.)
And I'm not working in some NGO trying to help people in the Philippines after Pablo/Bopha, or the kids with nodding disease in Uganda, wondering how to get donors to help people who urgently need it. If I were, I'd have a real reason to lose my temper.
To my own surprise, my interest after eight years is stronger than ever. I'm not worrying about a pandemic that leaves bodies in the streets. I know that even Haiti will endure the sorrows and diseases inflicted by the outside world. But the sheer process of surveillance and response continues to fascinate me.
So I intend to carry on doing this as long as I can. But the longer I do it, the more I realize how many people are really needed to do this job well. The handful of flu bloggers (you know who you are) do astounding work; we are like the Capitoline geese, squawking about the stealthy intruders until we wake the sleeping Romans.
I hope many more people, especially experts who know what they're talking about, will take up the job and carry it on. To give you some sense of what the job involves, I'm uploading a little essay on the theory and practice of health blogging. Yes, doing this is a time sink. But it's simpler than it looks, and it's a better use of your time than watching TV.
Whether this is your first visit, or you've been a citizen of Flublogia for years, thank you for your interest.