Preparing for Pandemics Is Contagious

The House, the Senate and Flu Near You all move to curb contagion.

'If the Pandemic-Preparedness Bill had been passed a year ago, Gwyneth Paltrow might have made it alive through the Contagion trailer.' (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Dec 8, 2011
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

It’s the time of season when the germaphobe in the next cubicle starts to look like a paragon of reasonable caution. The malls are filled with rosy-cheeked masses flaunting their flu and cold symptoms, and news feeds are serving up stories of the on-again, off-again relationship between doctors, nurses and handwashing.

Do not despair! Amazon is dishing up an affordable, functional and fashion-forward hazmat suit, just in time for the holiday sneezin’.

Plus, both chambers of the United States government, and the Flu Near You project, are stepping up to stop viruses from going viral.

Can this convergence of private sector and government interest in killing germs dead be purely coincidental?

The House approved legislation Tuesday that updates a variety of programs designed to protect the United States from pandemics. The bill (HR 2405) would revise provisions of the Project BioShield Act of 2004, funneling resources to the Department of Health and Human Services and empowering the Food and Drug Administration to fast track medical products before a public health emergency actually occurs.

A bipartisan group in the Senate is crafting a separate but similar bill, S1 855, to reboot emergency-preparedness health programs, and the government’s influenza tracking has received a private-sector booster shot from Flu Near You, a joint initiative of Children’s Hospital Boston, the Skoll Global Threats Foundation and the American Public Health Association.

Flu Near You recruits flu sufferers (and pre-flu sufferers) to fill out weekly surveys of symptoms—aches, chills, fever, coughing, vomiting, ability to focus on daytime television. Automatically, the afflicted person pops up on the Flu Near You site, humanized in a community of similarly stricken individuals. Aside from gaining this virtual peer group, the flu victim is contributing to controlling and minimizing the outbreak of the disease.

Tracking a particular flu strain’s progress, and monitoring sufferers’ behaviors, are valuable tools for staving off impending illness, both for still-healthy individuals and on the grand, pandemic scale.

At the risk of opening a can of vaccination controversy, the Flu Near You site also inquires if participants have received a flu shot.

Can this convergence of private sector and government interest in killing germs dead be purely coincidental? Maybe, but a certain film trailer did receive wide distribution earlier this year, as did the film it heralded.

Contagion was produced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media.

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