I saw a show on Bill Moyers' Wide Angle a few months back that made me take notice of the Avian Flu virus. As Moyers made clear in his show (sorry I didn't tape it), our biggest problem right now is that if there was a pandemic, and we had a cure for it, there is currently no adequate system of distributing such an antedote or vaccine to the large numbers of people that will be in need of it.
Here's the scoop. Note #4 of the Quick Facts. I got all my information from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control.
Quick Facts: 1) We're talking about the: "H5N1 avian influenza virus" per the who's update here:
some cases of H7 too: per:
2) Why is the World Health Organization so concerned?
This is the closest we've been to a pandemic since 1968. All the prerequisites for a pandemic have now been met EXCEPT ONE: "The establishment of efficient human-to-human transmission." The virus is morphing, and has expanded its geographical range. Every new human case is another chance for the virus to adjust its structure to be more susceptible to humans. The trouble is, since this is a "Bird Flu," the carriers are literally flying all over the place spreading virus infected bird shit -- whether they appear to be sick or not. (I fear this is going to be bad news for birdies...)
3) What could cause efficient human-to-human transmission to take place?
Two ways: a "reassortment event" or an "adaptive mutation."
A "Reassortment Event," where genetic material is exchanged between human and avian viruses during co-infection of a human or pig, or an "adaptive mutation," a more gradual process, where the capability of these viruses to bind to human cells takes place gradually, advancing with every new infection.
The reassortment even scenario is pretty bleak. The WHO is hoping for an "adaptive mutation," a mutation that happens gradually over time, that might give everyone more time to prepare.
4) Who's getting it so far? So far, according to the WHO's instructions, "the vast majority of human cases have occurred in rural areas." So farmers, basically. One of the main problems seems to be that governments will not compensate farmers for lost birds that are killed after being reported. This makes farmers not want to report outbreaks. Also it's been tough getting the word out to farmers and/or getting medicine and assistance to them.
5) What can be done? Currently, there is no worldwide mass anti-viral drug distribution system. The WHO document suggests that this needs to be created immediately. It seems to me from the documents that antiviral drugs can help cure the disease, but it's unclear which ones or how well they work. It also *seems to me* that we can't create a vaccine until we have the exact virus that we're trying to stop, which hasn't been created yet due to #3 not happening yet. We hope that #3 never does happen, but we need to be ready for it so we can spring into action the moment it does -- because it's probably going to happen at some point with some disease.
6) How many people have died/been infected?
Around 100 people have been infected -- about half of them have died. The last person to die was only 27 years old.
1) The World Health Organization's PDF of Instructions about what to do. Available in six different languages:
"Responding to the avian influenza pandemic threat. Recommended strategic actions"
This document sets out activities that can be undertaken by individual countries, the international community and WHO to prepare the world for the next influenza pandemic and mitigate its impact once international spread has begun.
2. World Health Organization - Avian Flu - Fact Sheet
3. World Health Organization - CSR Page - Avian influenza (CSR = Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response)
4. Avian influenza – situation in Indonesia – update 32 29 September 2005
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US Department of Health and Human Services) Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/
I'm not trying to insult anyone's intelligence. But I like to play fair with my blog posts. If I felt the need to look up a word during the course of my research, it is included here.
1. pathogenic: path·o·gen·ic ( P ) Pronunciation Key (pth-jnk) also path·o·ge·net·ic (-j-ntk) adj.
1. Capable of causing disease. 2. Originating or producing disease. 3. Of or relating to pathogenesis.
en·dem·ic ( P ) Pronunciation Key (n-dmk) adj. 1. Prevalent in or peculiar to a particular locality, region, or people: diseases endemic to the tropics. See Synonyms at native. 2. Ecology. Native to or confined to a certain region. n. Ecology An endemic plant or animal.