Today The Washington Post published a panic-stricken editorial on American hospitals’ inability to handle all the victims of an entirely hypothetical flu outbreak. The predictions of a drastic shortage of hospital beds were calculated using models based on the 1918 flu pandemic, a comparison which makes about as much sense as studying World War I to learn about America’s military capabilities today.
The Spanish flu of 1918 was so deadly in large part because science and technology were not nearly as advanced as they are today. In 1918 we had far less effective quarantines, poor long-distance communications, and not much of the science we now call virology. However, Scotland’s Daily Record reports that today in 2006 we have hand sprays that kill the avian flu bug — yes, that avian flu — in 30 seconds. Here’s an idea for everyone panicking about bird flu: Instead of hand-wringing, how about a little hand-washing?