We’ve said it here often, but it’s nice to see it in the commercial print media.
Less than a year ago, Americans could barely turn on the television, surf the Internet or pick up a newspaper without finding a doomsday story about deadly avian flu.
By last November, President Bush had asked Congress for $7.1 billion to help develop a vaccine, stockpile antiviral medications and fund state preparations for a possible pandemic.
Now, with the disease still centered in Asia and the failure of migratory birds to spread the illness to Europe and North America, the H5N1 virus has dropped out of the media spotlight. The dearth of coverage has prompted some to think that the threat of a pandemic has passed.
Nothing could be further from the truth, however. (Tony Pugh, McClatchey Newspapers)
What’s different this year? Last year there was a human case every nine days, on average. This year we’re seeing one every four days. All of last year there were 97 cases and 42 deaths. This year there are already 109 cases and 73 deaths (WHO), and we are just getting into flu season.
One thing has decreased, though. News coverage. Such news as there is still comes from far away. The migratory bird scenario for global spread has yet to materialize, possibly because wild birds are a minor part of the geographic spread which is mainly driven by human movements that bring infected birds from place to place.
But that’s not very significant in public health terms (although the poultry industry is glad to hear it). If a pandemic occurs from avian influenza it won’t be spread by birds but by people. As long as this viral stew continues to bubble away in China, southeast asia, the Middle East and Indonesia we face the real possibility it will change character to make human beings an efficient new host for the virus to carry out its only function, make copies of itself.
“We’re as worried now as we ever have been,” said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Well, some of us are.