Asian Bird Flu - The Next Global Pandemic?
Over the past several years, there has been consistently growing concern about an emerging strain of "Avian" or Bird Flu originating in Asia. Only recently was it discovered that the "Spanish Flu" epidemic of 1918-1919 was an Avian based flu virus, a global pandemic that killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide. The discovery was made when frozen samples from people killed in the 1918-1919 pandemic were specifically examined for particles from the HN family of viruses.
Unlike the usual pattern of morbidity for the typical flue (the very young, the elderly and the infirm), the HN family of viruses, once mutated into a form that is pathogenic to humans tend to kill healthy young people and young adults. Most victims of the Spanish Flu were 20 to 40 years old. This is because when pathogenically active, the virus fools the body into attacking itself, causing what is known as a cytokine cascade. So in effect, the healthier one's immune system was, the more lethal the effects of the virus.
HN51, which appeared in Asian fowl only a few years ago, quickly jumped from birds to humans, especially in commercial and private chicken and duck farms in South East Asia, China, and parts of the Pacific Rim. Frighteningly, to date it has been fatal in over 70 percent of the cases in humans. While animal farm workers have been the usual victims, people who consume the meat of virus contaminated fowl have also caught the disease as of late, prompting the killing of millions of chickens and ducks in these areas under government coordinated programs.
While there have been no absolutely confirmed cases of human to human transmission, it is stated by World Health Organization (WHO) that there have been a couple of suspicious cases that remain inconclusive.
The World Health Organization has stated that it is not a matter of if, but more a matter of when HN51 will mutate into a form that is easily transmitted from human to human, most likely via respiratory contact. They have sent strong warning to all of the world's governments to stockpile anti-virals that have a known effect against Avian viruses like Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate).
Most major western nations, with the notably frightening exception of the United States, have acquired doses for most of their populations. The US to date has about 20 million doses, not even enough for one in fifteen Americans. While research into a possible vaccine continues, many scientists state that developing a truly effective vaccine is difficult with HN51 since it can mutate so rapidly.
The US's own Center for Disease Control (CDC) has, along with the Federal emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have recommended procedures in place for dealing with an HN51 outbreak that focuses on minimizing contact between people, including the closing of schools and factories, for up to one year. Clearly, the best alternative is to have an ample stock of anti-viral medications on hand, but to date the US has not placed an order to cover the general population.
However, it was recently reported that some Chinese scientists have been experimenting with saving commercial fowl using Tamiflu. The WHO and other organizations protested this simply due to the common fact that by treating the host animal with the anti-viral they simply increase the chances of the virus developing defenses against the anti-viral leaving the rest of the world with no weapon to deal with this dangerous potential pandemic. Supposedly, these experiments were halted by the Chinese government.
Yet HN51 looms on the horizon as a threat greater than terrorism or global warming. Those countries ill prepared to deal with the disease face high death rates, loss of a substantial portion of the population - possibly the healthiest among the general population- and a socio-economic disaster of enormous proportions. The effects of HN51, if not mitigated by aggressive action of government health authorities in time, will be felt in every corner of the globe.
Estimates of world wide deaths range from a low of 20 million to a possible high in excess of 100 million.
Now is the time for your government to be preparing for this modern plague, not once the outbreak begins.
In the News:Avian Flu Vaccine Called Effective in Human Testing [NEW YORK TIMES]
Lethal Bird Flu Strain Found in Siberia â" Russian Ministry [MOS NEWS]
Flu Pandemic Looms, but World Unprepared [SEATTLE TIMES]
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