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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Bird Flu TV Movie: Grim Worst Case

<P>Some Errors, Some Painful Truths in Worst-Case Bird Flu Movie</P>

Supply Shortages

In the movie, essential services, electricity, food, and water become scarce. In a real-life pandemic of a very bad fluflu virus, this could happen when large numbers of people get sick at the same time. Hospitals, too, would be overwhelmed. The U.S. government recommends that people stockpile basic necessities in the event of an emergency.

In the movie, people die because they can't get medicines such as insulin. In a severe, real-life pandemic, medical supplies will be hard to get. Pandemic preparedness planning includes seeing your doctor to ensure an adequate supply of essential medicines.

In the movie, there aren't enough antiflu medicines to go around -- and the drugs soon stop working. In real life, the U.S. is stockpiling enough flu drugs to treat a quarter of the population. That's how many people got sick in past flu pandemics. The U.S. currently has 26 million treatment courses and expects to have 81 million by the end of 2008. While the bird flubird flu virus can become resistant to the flu drug Tamiflu, there's no evidence that Tamiflu-resistant virus is being spread.

Body Disposal

In the movie, dump trucks dispose of dead bodies in mass graves. In real life, a major U.S. government priority is to prepare for disposal of large numbers of bodies in the event of a worst-case pandemic. That planning is not yet complete. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that "it is highly unlikely that in the 21st century in the U.S. that we would ever resort to mass graves."

In the movie, at the very end, the pandemic's second wave appears to be 100% lethal. In real life, pandemics do come in waves -- but it's extremely unlikely that the H5N1 bird flu could become as deadly as the movie virus. However, in the 1918 flu pandemic, the second wave was worse than the first. And H5N1 bird flu is a very bad flu virus. There's no guarantee that a pandemic version of this virus would be less virulent.

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