It’s been about a week since my last “bird flu” post–and I know that many people, including myself, tend to get burned out on the same ol’ thing, but there’s some interesting news out that I wanted to share. First, two posts from Effect Measure. Here, Revere discusses the newest reports of H5N1 spread: swans in Austria, Germany, and Iran. Revere also discusses one of GrrlScientist’s favorite topics, spread of the virus caused by wild birds vs. domestic poultry. I agree with his conclusion (and not just because he linked my “small world” post):
Another (and in our view more likely) possibility is that both explanations [that the virus spreads by wild birds *and* domestic poultry] are correct. The virus makes the occasional long jump via migratory birds but primarily spreads locally via the poultry trade.
Since the virus itself does get a lot of attention, I’m also highlighting another of Revere’s posts, , trying to get people to go beyond individual strategies–or public health strategies–and think about community measures that will help in responding to a disaster.
But if we are going to get through this with minimum pain we will, above all, need to help each other. The more prepared we are as communities the more likely we will see neighbor helping neighbor instead of neighbor fleeing neighbor. In essence this is a task at community mobilization and the closer a pandemic seems, the easier it will be to mobilize the community. So we should be thinking about it and doing it, even if in the past it was hard to get attention. Perceptions change and with them, willingness to take action.
We are not just talking about public health measures. In a way, they will more likely take care of themselves because that seems to be the only thing state and local governments are thinking about. The big issues will be those loosely called social services: how to care for the many people who will need care despite no money, family or social support; how to ration scarce resources of all kinds; how to cope with a prolonged 30% to 40% absenteeism that can cripple essential services like food supply, pharmacies, water, power; how to provide for the dead and comfort their survivors. All of these things can be done by schools, businesses and agencies thinking ahead and putting in place some rudimentary planning.
Finally, one new research finding just out today in Nature:
Antibodies to H5N1 found in village dogs and cats.
Large numbers of domestic dogs and cats in Thailand may be infected with the H5N1 strain of avian flu, Nature has learned. Experts are struggling to work out whether such carnivores might be spreading the disease.
In an unpublished study carried out last year by the National Institute of Animal Health in Bangkok, researchers led by virologist Sudarat Damrongwatanapokin tested 629 village dogs and 111 cats in the Suphan Buri district of central Thailand. Out of these, 160 dogs and 8 cats had antibodies to H5N1, indicating that they were infected with the virus or had been infected in the past. “That’s a lot,” says Albert Osterhaus, a virologist at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “This is definitely something to look into.” So far, researchers at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University have isolated the virus from at least one of the dogs.
Wild cats, including tigers, are known to be susceptible to the virus, but this is the first scientific study to find it in dogs, suggesting that infection could be widespread. Osterhaus is pressing officials at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health to monitor dogs, cats and other carnivores for H5N1. “It’s a gap in our surveillance,” he says. “Basically all carnivores seem susceptible.”
Again, this is one thing that makes H5N1 so scary–it’s just such a strange influenza virus. Cats and dogs normally aren’t infected by influenza virus (though of course, a new “dog flu” was announced last year.) This just adds another layer of surveillance that we don’t have–infections we’re likely missing.