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Fatal Flu Flaws

A serious flu study found that in a really bad scenario there could be a desperate need to hospitalize some 10 million Americans. But exactly where could we put those stricken 10 million persons? Would there be enough hospital beds? How many hospital beds are there in the

The answer is not good. There are a total of about one million hospital beds, but at any given normal time about two-thirds are being used for non-flu patients. In other words, the nation is completely screwed if the worst happens and a truly terrible flu pandemic hits our country. So, all the talk about how many doses of flu medicines we have available, enough for only a fraction of the population, does not tell the whole story. Especially if you remember that nearly 50 million Americans without any health insurance are unlikely to get flu medicines if they succumb to a virus, because they are unlikely to get quick access to medical help. Sure, we might benefit from having a much larger supply of flu medicines. But the more important realization from facing flu facts is that public health prevention strategies are incredibly important.

In other words, it is the crucial need for the public health system to get the truth about a flu outbreak as quickly as possible and then to translate scientific findings into smart public responses that can stop the rapid spread of a flu virus.

If these public health preventive measures do not work well enough, then we surely are in deep trouble, even if millions of people get flu medicines there will never be anywhere enough hospital beds to take care of seriously ill people that definitely require hospitalization to survive.

What all this should tell us is that the entire health care system is so fundamentally rotten, that if the worse happens we are totally up the proverbial creek without a boat or paddle. Rather than tens of thousands of people dying from the "ordinary" flu, a truly terrible pandemic would likely mean many hundreds of thousands dying, or even millions.

Despite the many negative impacts of unjustified hysteria and overreaction because of the possibility of a fast moving and deadly flu outbreak, especially when the economy is already in awful shape, each and every one of us should practice sensible, precautionary and preventive measures (especially frequent hand washing when out in public) to help stop the spread of the current swine flu virus. And we should give our complete support to schools that close temporarily because of one or more confirmed cases of flu. And if you come down with any flu symptoms, for god sake stay home.

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Joel S. Hirschhorn has succeeded as: a full professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; a senior staffer, U.S. Congress (Office of Technology Assessment); head of an environmental consulting company; Director of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources, National Governors Association; now an author and consultant. Recent books are: Sprawl Kills - How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money, and Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. He has published hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, journals and on many web magazine sites. He has given hundreds of talks at a wide range of conferences worldwide. He focuses on American culture, politics and government, and health issues.