Two-year-old post on avian influenza sparks new attention
A 2006 post about avian influenza, or bird flu, here at Pied Type (“Bird flu: Shame on ABC” ) has attracted the attention of several recent passers-by.
That lone commentary on bird flu was made and quickly forgotten. Forgotten as fast as the news and entertainment industries forgot it, because their treatment of the issue was my focus. The new comments make several points, some of which are valid, and some, not so valid.
New cases of bird flu continue to be reported. Since that post in 2006, the number of confirmed cases in humans worldwide has risen from 115 to 382 with 241 deaths. Make no mistake, with a mortality rate like that, H5N1 is a particularly lethal virus. Still, that is no reason for panic, given the total world population, especially when there have been no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission.
Indonesia remains the world hot spot for bird flu, and alarm there is understandably higher. For various reasons there have been problems getting detailed information from that country, as reported by AP. The international exchange of H5N1 data is improving, although it continues to be slowed by concerns over intellectual property rights, rights to produce vaccine (i.e. money), and plain old mutual suspicion.
Somewhere it was reported there is a 1 in 3 chance the virus might mutate into a form transmissible from human to human. To date, however, the virus in humans is still being contracted only from infected animals and birds, primarily chickens, rather than other humans. Unless and until it attains a form that spreads rapidly from person to person, pandemic is an inaccurate and unnecessarily frightening word to drop on the general public.
It is reassuring to know the scientific community has been making progress despite the obstacles. The FDA approved an early vaccine a year ago, and GlaxoSmithKline has just received permission to begin marketing its new bird flu vaccine in Europe.
All in all, it doesn’t sound as exciting as a headline trumpeting an imminent global pandemic, does it?
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