It's true that we know more about controlling the spread of disease now than we did a century ago -- but that advantage is more than offset by the fact that there are so many more
of us on the planet now, and we are so much more mobile.
When that 1900-something flu killed millions around the world, it had to travel by ship and horseback to reach its victims. Now, infected people fly viruses from one side of the planet to the other in less than a day, spreading disease to fellow passengers, who spread it to those on their
subsequent flights... and so on.
Obviously, a pandemic can develop much, much faster now than ever in history. And it can take months to develop and produce an effective vaccine; at today's speed of transmission, with a really virulent strain, we could all be dead before the first cultures are grown. (Yes, I know that sounds like hype -- but it is theoretically possible.)
The US was lucky to dodge the SARS and bird flu bullets. But that history is not at all predictive: each case is a whole new opportunity for disaster, and ignorance is our greatest enemy. If we fail to educate ourselves and take appropriate action, we greatly increase the chance that any particular virus could overwhelm us.
The fact that this new virus has elements of swine, avian, and
human DNA suggests that it is the product of extensive mutation already. Unlike the bird flu, which was struggling to make the leap from birds to humans, this virus already knows
Also, as far as anyone can yet tell, the "American" version of this virus is not
milder -- it's apparently identical to the one that has killed so many in Mexico. Some experts believe that the difference in mortality rates may be due to significant underreporting
of the number of cases that have actually occurred in Mexico. (By the way -- the largest cluster of cases in the US is in a group of students who had traveled
to Mexico, so there's no reason to believe they have anything other
than the Mexican virus.)
So what I'm getting at is that we would be foolish to assume that this (or any
new virus) is "just another scare." Whether this becomes a global disaster or not is partially up to us.
We all need to understand what could happen and do all we can to prevent the spread of contagions.
Excuse me for ranting... I juat want to be sure we're all as careful and safe as possible.