A bad six months for bird flu

The first half of 2006 is coming to an end. So far it was the world's worst for avian influenza, as the disease spread to birds across Asia, Europe and Africa, with new human cases being reported every couple of days.

Since January, at least 54 people have died from the H5N1 avian influenza strain in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey, according to the World Health Organization. That compares with 19 fatalities in Vietnam and Cambodia in the first six months of 2005. Human cases create opportunity for the virus to mutate into a lethal pandemic form.

[snip]

A severe winter in Russia and the Caucasus area at the end of last year pushed migratory birds south and westward, the FAO said. By February, initial outbreaks in wild birds and poultry were reported in Iraq, Nigeria, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Greece, Italy, Azerbaijan, Iran, Germany, India, Egypt, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Slovakia, Switzerland and Niger.

The following month, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, Pakistan, Albania, Poland, Georgia, Cameroon, Myanmar, Denmark, Sweden, Israel, Afghanistan, Jordan and the Czech Republic reported initial outbreaks. They were joined by Burkina Faso, Palestine Authority, U.K., Sudan and Ivory Coast in April and Djibouti in May.

In contrast, no initial outbreaks were reported in the first half of last year. In the first half of 2004, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Laos, Indonesia and China reported H5N1 for the first time. (Bloomberg)

Conditions for a possible pandemic continue to ripen. The virus is geographically distributed in ever new and different environmental niches, has produced the largest cluster of human cases to date, with solid evidence of human to human to human transmission, and has infected other mammalian species in which to experiment with new lifestyles and genetic endowments.

This is the first time in history the world has been able to watch what might be an evolving influenza pandemic, so we don't know what we are looking at. So far what we see is both frightening and fascinating -- the horrible fascination of watching a trainwreck in slow motion.

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While those of us who read this blog are certainly fascinated, I'm more than a bit concerned about bird flu "fatigue" among the media (or that the media perceives in its audience).

It's not necessarily just the media's fault, either. I tried to raise the suggestion in a group I belong to that we discuss bird flu at a future meeting and the answers I got were "Isn't everyone bored to death with bird flu" and "Let's wait till the next flu season."

How can we urge more people to give more thought to preparations when people seem to think this has already blown over?

By concerned (not verified) on 28 Jun 2006 #permalink

I continue to see scientists hedging their bets on whether or not H5N1 will go pandemic.

I continue to see no basis for their optimism.

Concerned: maybe you can tell them if BF comes one time, maybe in the next months, it can possibly be by plane. And they can choose not to prepare and find empty shelves and all other not-in-time confrontations, or they can choose to at least have some basics in the home and be able to hear what's going on.
H5N1 is not at all getting less dangerous and disappearing from the globe. On the contrary. Still, they have a choice and some time to prepare. Not everyone has.
How many mutations have we seen in how many human clusters already? Vietnam, Turkey, Indonesia.
Waiting on a chair while it is being done for you, no charge.

concerned: It won't happen all at once. If it starts somewhere (else) this will have a wonderful ability to concentrate the mind.

"The virus is geographically distributed in ever new and different environmental niches, has produced the largest cluster of human cases to date, with solid evidence of human to human to human transmission, and has infected other mammalian species in which to experiment with new lifestyles and genetic endowments."

Actually that sounds like a pretty good six months for bird flu. Just not so good for the rest of us. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Would be nice to see the same headline six months from now above a happier post, but the chance looks mighty slim.

"If it starts somewhere (else) this will have a wonderful ability to concentrate the mind." Revere

If it happens somewhere else...don't blink you'll miss it!! In otherwords, we will have a few days to a few weeks to prepare before it is around the world.

I get the same responses. People react like you have something growing out of your forehead. I just chuckle to myself as they drag their kids off and continue to keep their heads firmly planted in the sand.

A couple of reactions like that made me squelch it; I do not mention pandemic flu to anyone anymore. It seems to be somewhat of our nature to be in denial about something this big. Unless they have been through some tough times (and personally experienced some tragedy), I think it is difficult for most to comprehend that something bad could happen.

Let it come, let it clean house. 6.5 Billion people is a lot bigger target than 1918. Sorry to be so direct, but I am tired of the sugar coatings... oh, and we need to see that CFR come done quite a bit before the currently reported 'worst case' scenarios (7 - 100 million globally) become a potential reality.

I sent an url to our church minister here, with the question what to consider on some basic information giving and preparation. The mailed content of the url was a church in US preparing for BF. Never got a reaction.
Sent an article from EM to an psychologist with influence in the scientific world with comment and questions. About the new taboo. Never got a reaction.
Sent some basic information and considerations to a member of parliament here. Never got a reaction.
They don't even seem to have a delayed response to it.
I do completely understand the way you're feeling, Luke. Some days I feel the same. Doesn't matter, just go on.
Many will be with you. The future seems to be just another computer game to the others. The ones who warned for 9-11, the ones who warned for World War II were prophets of doom.
In ancient times they were deliberately killed for their messages. Nowadays, they are doing that on psychological level, or dissociate themselves from it.

The speculative is always a difficult thing to grasp...ask the Governments around the Indian Ocean.