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AFLA Alert


Bob Hyman

The World Health Organization today announced the outbreak of yet another unidentified disease that seems to be spreading with near-epidemic proportions throughout East Central Asia. At first, the disease was thought to be a mutant form of the well-known SARS virus. Subsequent tests have shown the two unrelated although they manifest common symptoms. The new disease is called Another Four Letter Acronym - or AFLA for short - by its discoverers. They say that it is more closely related to the AIDS virus than to other crown-type viruses.

A spokesperson for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta told reporters that AFLA could reach pandemic proportions within three weeks unless effective quarantine procedures were implemented immediately. Fortunately, most of the initial infections are said to be occurring in the Turkmenistan and Hindustan regions where contact with the outside world is for the most part limited to National Geographic reporters and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photographers. Since the gross per capita income for the affected regional area is less than eight dollars (US) per year, little - if any - economic impact is anticipated from this outbreak.

In a follow-up news conference to the CDC report, several major pharmaceutical manufacturers announced that a vaccine for the disease could easily be developed within twelve months, if - and they cautioned, only if - the disease somehow migrated into an area with higher per capita income. Also, at the same news conference, SI editors announced that the Swimsuit Edition might have to be cancelled unless another suitable indigenous, virus-free location could be located. Seventeen nations have thus far joined a coalition to find a suitable replacement area. When questioned about evacuation plans for its reporters, the National Geographic Society had no comment other than to say that all embedded reporters in the immediate area were expendable.

When asked if there was any connection between the outbreak and the region's reluctance to support the recent Iraqi operations, Administration officials were quick to point out that they were just as surprised as anyone. One official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "Why would we have wasted it there when we could have used it on the French?" Unfortunately, only the Canadian and Chinese reporters would have understood the significance of that remark, but neither could speak English.

The International Red Cross, Feed the Children, and twenty-three other charities have united to form a consortium for AFLA fund raising to assure that no possible contributor is missed. Efforts are underway to locate a suitable poster child. Negotiations continue between the consortium and CNN for rights to all still and video footage of victims, with resolution expected prior to the May sweeps.

In a related story, CDC and WHO officials have requested an additional fifteen billion dollars to assist in the discovery and naming of other viruses. "AIDS and SARS are just the tip of the iceberg," they said in a joint communiqué. "There are nearly half a million possible permutations of four letters. Even allowing for one or two vowels in each acronym and eliminating all unpronounceable combinations, there are still at least fifty thousand, four-letter diseases remaining to be named. Please help us to continue to come up with the catchy names that the public has come to expect."

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