Saturday, January 22, 2005

The 2005 Bird Flu.

I haven't been that worried about the latest bird flu epidemic. After all, I've lived through one already. Last year we had one, with 31 humans dying of the disease. The government's response was to cull infected stock, and they did a good job of it. Sài Gòn had to do without chicken for a couple of months, but I don't think anyone wanted to buy any.

Now the original strain was bird-to-human. A lot of kiddies got it from playing in bird faeces. Others who caught the disease worked with these animals. As a city-slicker, I reckon I was pretty safe for this round of the disease. But now I'm not so sure. From New Scientist:

Bird flu on the rise again in Vietnam

Two more people in Vietnam have been confirmed to have contracted the H5N1 bird flu virus, as the known death toll in the country since the start of 2005 has risen to seven. There are at least seven more cases suspected.

Worryingly, two cases now in hospital might have caught the virus from another person, not from an infected fowl. Overall, these cases also suggest that many human infections with H5N1 may not have been diagnosed, partly because tests are not reliable or widely available.

The more people that have the virus, the more chances it will have to adapt to humans and possibly unleash a pandemic, warned Hans Troedsson of the World Health Organization in Vietnam. The WHO's biggest bird flu fear is that the virus will evolve to spread from human to human. Troedsson called it a "disappointment [that] the international community is not responding more adequately to the threat".

Now according to Just A Bump In the Beltway (where I got this link from):

H5N1 is not a normal influenza. It's a mad one and a bad one. It makes the 1918 influenza, that put 50 - 100 million people below the sod, look like a head cold. Normal influenzas have a lethality of about 1%, and still kills "only" 36,000 Americans every year. The 1918 influenza had a 2% - 5% lethality. This little puppy has, to date, a 70% lethality. Ponder that figure and do the math.

As long as it stays in a poultry-to-human transmission mode, I'm not too worried. But human-human transmission is worrisome. Thankfully, nothing in this story indicates truly airborne transmission. A mother nursing her child is pretty intimate physical contact.

At this stage, I can only predict another round of chicken culling. More news will be forthcoming.

UPDATE: I was right. According to VietNamNet Bridge:

The outbreak has spread to 22 of 64 provinces and cities in Vietnam, and has resulted in the culling of more than 331,000 poultry since the beginning of this year.

I've heard they've stopped selling chicken in the supermarkets. Well, whatever helps.