Spanish Flu of 1918: Could It Happen Again?

Vanderbilt's Schaffner concedes that antiviral medication can be effective, "if we have enough and we can get it to people in time." Stockpiles of antiviral medication in the U.S. are perilously low, according to some analysts, and the treatment is only effective if started within 48 hours of infection.

"You've got to really invest vast resources right now to protect us from a pandemic," said Schaffner.

Baum acknowledges that a vaccine to prevent the avian flu remains elusive.

"There's nobody making vaccines anymore because the profitability is low and the liability is high," said Baum. "There's got to be government support for vaccine development and production."

Many countries are slow to admit that an infectious health problem is brewing within their borders. "On a political level, we need the places that have a problem with this [infectious diseases] to be upfront about it," said Baum. "Certainly with AIDS, many countries have been reluctant in admitting they have AIDS."

Pandemic Like a Hurricane

And what if a pandemic were to strike again?

Crosby and Schaffner compare the nation's response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to our response to a possible flu pandemic.

"When I look at the Gulf Coast after the hurricane, I'm not encouraged," Crosby said. "Today we have news 24/7 and people would just go into hysteria."

"It would be a hurricane to hit the entire country," said Schaffner. "It would be a punch to the solar plexus and it would take us a long time to recover."

"The whole world economy would shudder," Schaffner added.

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