Beneath the Surface

It can take a lot of work to make sure nothing happens.
Jun 02, 2009


Maribel Rios
Not long after the media blitz about swine flu had settled, I began to see some negative comments in response to blogs and Internet articles that complained that government agencies had once again scared the public with another potentially catastrophic pandemic. One post said, "SARS, bird flu, and now swine flu. Nothing's happened, enough already."

The situation is not unlike the days before Jan. 1, 2000. Fear that Y2K would shut down communications, utilities, and banks sent some people flocking to grocery and medical supply stores. It may seem ridiculous now, but the concerns were real. And the reason emergencies didn't occur was the tireless efforts of many people.

Now, 10 years later, I'm disappointed to see comments that the H1N1 threat was taken out of proportion. To minimize the spread of infection, FDA acquired Emergency Use Authorization, which was not a trivial matter. The action allowed the rapid distribution of Tamiflu and Relenza, diagnostic panel tests, and disposable respirators. FDA formed seven management teams to deal with the situation. (Coincidentally, Margaret Hamburg, new FDA commissioner, previously worked with HHS to develop pandemic flu responses.)

The efficiency of FDA and industry reminded me of a college lecture on the basics of waves. The professor stated a wave can be cancelled by simply generating another wave of the same amplitude and frequency, but traveling in the opposite direction. He concluded, "When you look upon the surface of a calm lake, you can't tell whether it is actually calm or whether there are strong waves beneath the surface that just happen to be cancelling each other out."

Maribel Rios is a senior editor of Pharmaceutical Technology. Read Maribel's blog posts at PharmTech Talk.