October 17, 2005
On this day:

Avian Flu

I have been following the progress of the news reports on Avian Flu, or H5N1 as it is scientifically known, for about a month or so now. For those of you that don't know, Avian Flu is an influenza virus which occurs naturally in wild birds and is very contagious amongst livestock poultry such as chickens and turkeys. The first cases of Avian Flu affecting poultry were reported in China, with the first human death recorded in Hong Kong in 1997.

Current reports suggest that bird flu would probably kill about 50,000 people in the UK and a death toll of 750,000 was "not impossible". To prevent this occuring, the UK is stockpiling 2.5 million doses of anti-viral drugs and may also restrict travel. Basically, everyone is running around like the proverbial headless chicken thinking that this is going to be the worst threat to world health since the outbreak of the SARS virus.

Up to 10 October 2005 there have been 117 reported cases of Avian Flu in humans, of these 60 have died. Of these cases the large majority have been cases where the persons infected have been working with poultry as the virus is typically spread to humans by inhalation of the dried birds' faeces. So far the spread of the virus from human to human has been rare and in those cases spread has not been beyond one human.

I am amazed at the amount of sensationalistic journalism has been allowed to take over this subject, which on the basis of facts doesn't seem to be the global killer that everyone in the press is making it to be. I mean, take a look at the size of South East Asia. Pretty big isn't it? It's also very highly populated and relies heavily on poultry farming to provide a large portion of its food. Although the virus is extremely aggressive when contracted by humans, symptoms are flu like leading to primary viral pneumonia and multi-organ failure, even the World Health Organization have stated that it would have to be given several opportunities to mutate into a form which would be highly infectious to humans and spread easily from person to person.

Should be panicking over the "perceived threat" of this "potential pandemic"? I for one will not. Every year I hear of another "killer influenza virus" which is coming out of China or Russia or any other South East Asian country and, although I know of the past pandemics that have decimated whole communities, nothing seems to come of it. The last pandemic in Britain was an outbreak of the Hong Kong strain in 1968 which infected 8% of the population and caused 40,000 deaths; why, because there was no vaccine.

If you are one of those that is panicking over this new virus I will leave you with a comforting thought ... there is no vaccine for this particular virus ... sleep tight.

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