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Flu Outbreaks, Real and Imagined

Okay, first here’s the fiction:

Today, in a remote corner of rural China, a farmer and his family share their water supply with their livestock: chickens, ducks and pigs.. Bird viruses meet their human counterparts in the bloodstreams of the swine, where they mix and mutate before spreading back into the human population. A new strain of the flu is born….

Dr. Noah Haldane, of the World Health Organization, knows that humanity is overdue for a new killer flu, like the great influenza pandemic of 1919 that killed more than twenty million people in less than four months. So when a mysterious new strain of flu is reported in the Gansu Province of mainland China, WHO immediately sends a team to investigate.

Haldane and his colleagues soon discover that the new disease, dubbed Acute Respiratory Collapse Syndrome, is far more deadly than SARS or H1N1, killing one in four victims. But even as WHO struggles to contain the outbreak, ARCS is already spreading to Hong Kong, London, and even America.

In an age when every single person in the world is connected by three commercial flights or fewer, a killer bug can travel much faster than the flu of 1919.

Especially when someone is spreading the virus on purpose…

Scary, huh? Fortunately, it’s just the plot line of a novel, specifically my first thriller, PANDEMIC.

Now, here are the facts for this winter, 2013:

According to New York magazine, “What’s being called the worst flu season in ten years is causing problems all around the country: In Boston, where flu cases are already up tenfold over last year, Mayor Thomas Menino has declared a public health emergency. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, one hospital had to set up a large tent outside to house all the extra flu patients. And in Chicago, some emergency rooms stopped taking new patients altogether because they were filled to capacity.” The Google Flu Trends chart, according to Slate magazine, shows we’re in the midst of an [flu] outbreak that is shaping up to be the most extensive on record.

But I don’t need the newspapers to tell me so. I am an Emergency physician who works in a busy urban ER. This already looks to me like the worst flu season in ages. What I find sad and frustrating is that so many of the cases—and the inevitable deaths that influenza brings—are preventable. By simply taking the flu shot. Here’s some practical and entertaining advice from a bright Canadian humorist, Rick Mercer, regarding the flu shot: RMR Flu Shot Rant.

The flu season can be a long one. And it’s not too late to make a difference for you and others. So if you haven’t done so yet, go get a flu shot. And stay well.


  1. As someone who works with elders in a community setting, I wish that everyone would read your blog post! So many people don’t get a flu shot for just the reasons mentioned in the video, as well as others (if I hear one more person tell me they didn’t get a flu shot because they think flu isn’t dangerous I think I’ll scream…). It’s heartbreaking for me to hear of someone who comes to our community center and who has been in great health but is now in the intensive care unit because of something as preventable as the flu. Thanks for spreading the word on this important issue!

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