In the first six months of 2006 the number of countries detecting infected birds has doubled. Case fatality remains extraordinarily high. And limited human to human transmission, with at least one moderately large cluster is becoming more evident. WHO continues to say most human infections come from poultry, although the evidence for this is not conclusive. Many cases have scant or no history. The feared easy person to person transmission has yet to occur, but the virus is not standing still. It continues to change genetically and move into wider and more varied niches. Sixty countries are said to be affected.
Southeast asia is said to have made progress controlling the disease and transmission to humans by aggressive programs of culling and vaccination, although the verdict is still out on whether this has truly worked. But meanwhile China, Indonesia and Africa struggle with their veterinary services and the hope of stamping out or controlling the spread in these places is slim. Too many birds, too wide an area, too little resources and public recognition of the problem. The virus is becoming endemic in a variety of bird species in large areas of the globe and is unlikely to go away soon.
The virus is not just a threat to the affected countries but to the world’s population should it spawn a pandemic strain, which seems more and more likely. Yet the wealthy countries are, as always, all talk but little action. At a meeting in Beijing in January $1.9 was pledged by wealthy donor countries to help poorer ones compensate farmers and improve their veterinary, surveillance and public health services. As we noted months ago, only a fraction has been delivered. Slow payments by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are partly to blame. They have paid out only $4 million of $969 million as of the end of April (Reuters). Other donor countries are also tardy, including the US and the EU. Only Japan has met (and even exceeded) its pledges.
So it’s mid July, now. Soon we will be moving into the northern hemisphere’s colder months and “flu season.” Most observers believe bird flu will also pick up speed.
Which is bad news, because it’s already traveling awfully fast.