Saturday, 5 November 2005

Pandemic punditry

Further to the post and subsequent discussion below about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic -- and the brief scare in Melburne yesterday when a chap returned from a trip to China with a dose of what now appears to be ordinary flu -- Dr Henry I. Miller at the Hoover Institute has a good short summary of the evidence so far for worrying. Note that the third characteristic is the crucial one and, crucially, the one yet to appear:
During the past several years, an especially virulent strain of avian flu, designated H5N1, has ravaged flocks of domesticated poultry in Asia and spread to migratory birds and (rarely) to humans. Now found from Russia and Japan to Indonesia, it is moving inexorably toward Europe. Since 2003, more than 60 human deaths have been attributed to H5N1. Public health experts and virologists are concerned about the potential of this strain because it already has two of the three characteristics needed to cause a pandemic: It can jump from birds to human, and can produce a severe and often fatal illness. If additional genetic evolution makes H5N1 highly transmissible among humans -- the third characteristic of a pandemic strain -- a devastating world-wide outbreak could become a reality.

Moreover, this is an extraordinarily deadly variant: The mortality rate for persons infected with the existing H5N1 appears to be around 50 percent, whereas the usual annual flu bug kills fewer than one percent.
As I said in the comments below, if you want to keep in touch with the evidence as it appears, here's three such sources of evidence that wil be worth keeping an eye on:
CIDRAP (the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy), the Avian Flu blog maintained by academics at George Mason University, and the collaborative reference site Flu Wiki.

1 comment:

  1. There's nothing to worry about. The reason H5N1 is so deadly is precidely because it cannot be transferred from human to human. At the moment it lives in the deep lung, and over time effectively destroys them. The 'mutation' everyone fears, that enables it to transfer from human to human, results in it living in air passages - nose, mouth, etc.. As soon as it mutates... it's less deadly.

    Also, the thing with deadly viruses or bacteria is that they themselves die out fairly quickly. Why? Because dead people, in the western world, don't spread disease - they are buried.


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