Pandemic Pending

Christian Enemark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

Governments around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about a
threat to global security of microscopic size*/an avian influenza virus called
H5N1. From a health perspective, this virus has a devastating effect on poultry
and is highly lethal when it infects humans. The key point from a security
perspective, however, is that it might soon forsake its avian hosts and mutate
into a form that enables disease transmission between humans. The prospect of
pandemic influenza touches the security nerve of people and politicians in ways
that set this disease apart from the many others that may be regarded simply as
health issues. A pandemic virus would potentially cause illness and death on a
large scale, but that alone is not what excites the imagination. Diseases other
than influenza exact a great human toll, most notably AIDS, tuberculosis and
malaria, but they do so in a slow-acting and relatively familiar manner. By
contrast, the effects of an influenza pandemic would be swift and unfamiliar.
This in turn could generate levels of dread and disruption vastly disproportionate to the likelihood that any given individual will become infected and die.
Individuals have a deep-seated, visceral fear of infection associated with the
invisibility of a disease threat and the notion of horrific symptoms leading to an
unpleasant death. In addition, societies have a collective fear of contagion
informed by dark memories of past pestilences such as smallpox and bubonic
plague. In the case of pandemic influenza, this dread of disease would be
amplified by the speed with which damage would occur. Just as nations fear
military conflict because so many national achievements could be quickly
undone, so too an influenza pandemic would swiftly set back hard-won economic gains and potentially undermine trust in government. And like the all-consuming effort of prosecuting a war, defeating ‘the flu’ would become a first order issue for governments*/one which would alter the premise for all other activity.
Against this backdrop of dread, the threat posed by H5N1 can be placed in
perspective by examining: the story so far of how the virus has spread; the likely
human damage if H5N1 mutates into a pandemic form; and what can be done
to mitigate that damage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-49
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Journal of International Affairs
Volume60
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2006

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