In contrast to the misleading vividness of the bioterror scenarios described below, here's a real but largely ignored public-health problem:
Influenza cases have picked up enough that some hospitals in Cincinnati are running out of room to admit patients....Because of hospital capacity problems, the public should use emergency rooms only when there is a true emergency, said Colleen O'Toole, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council. Otherwise, you can expect a long wait if your condition is not serious.The important thing to note here is that this is a predictable seasonal problem, and yet we don't seem to be able to adapt to it without great effort. The flu season so far has been comparatively mild, too (except for those odd cases that resulted in the sudden death of young people). Last year, hospitals were in far worse shape.
The point is, barring an immediate conceptual and financial overhaul of our public-health system, a flu pandemic would be very likely to reduce the availability and quality of medical care pretty much across the board, leading to serious consequences even if the flu's mortality rate turned out to be just a little bit higher than that of a normal season. Because it's increasingly privatized and underfunded, our public-health infrastructure simply can't handle a large increase in hospital admissions.
This has come about partially because too many of our leaders see healthcare as a problem for individuals, instead of as a basic component of the social contract. In reality, the quality and effectiveness of the medical care that even the poorest individual gets - especially in the case of contagious disease - is a matter of huge importance to society at large. It's not that different from firefighting; society must put out my burning house not because I'm part of some "meritocracy," in the ugly and hyperexclusionary Republican sense of the word, but because a conflagration at my house may well burn down everyone else's.
It's always been fashionable on the right to sneer at universal healthcare. It's interesting that the people most likely to buy "United We Stand" bumperstickers are also very likely to see themselves as standing outside the webs of interdependence and mutuality that necessarily bind worthwhile human communities. This stance is typical of people who can't face up to their own vulnerability. Unfortunately, because they pretend to be invulnerable, they can't be relied on to protect themselves or their country; you can't protect anyone from a danger you refuse to acknowledge. These people aren't America's fearless guardians, as they like to pretend; they're cowards insofar as they won't face up to reality, and traitors insofar as they present an obstacle to protecting the nation's health.