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12-26-2007, 07:07 AM
Whatever happend to bird flu?
Morning Edition, December 26, 2007 · Ten years after a bird flu virus first jumped directly from chickens to humans, killing six people in Hong Kong, a feared pandemic has yet to materialize.
Lately flu experts have even expressed optimism that the threat could be receding. But meanwhile, a dispute between rich and poor nations is blocking a vital effort to track what's happening with the bird flu virus.
Human cases of the bird flu virus, known as H5N1, have continued. In Pakistan, for example, the World Health Organization is currently investigating what could be the largest cluster of human-to-human transmission so far. A veterinarian and five members of his family are suspected cases, along with three others involved in culling infected chickens. Such clusters are rare, but they have occurred in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
But it doesn't necessarily mean the world is moving closer to a pandemic, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.
"There are those who say it's been around for 10 years and it hasn't happened yet. Therefore it just proves how difficult it is for it to happen," Fauci said. "Then there's another school of thought that says, 'hey, you know, it hasn't happened, but why should we keep giving it the chance to happen?'"
Experts worry that if H5N1 keeps circulating in poultry - occasionally infecting humans - the virus could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person. That would likely touch off a pandemic. Since up to 80 percent of people infected with H5N1 have died, it could be as bad as the 1918 pandemic that killed 50 million people.
But as 2007 comes to a close, there is actually good news about H5N1.
"We've got a bit of a plateauing," said David Nabarro, the chief U.N. flu coordinator at a meeting in Washington, D.C. "The number of human cases, which act as a sentinel, has slightly decreased. Human deaths have also decreased."
"So there's a question that the situation of the h-5-n-1 virus, at least, is not so serious," he said.
Even so, Nabarro said H5N1 is circulating in six countries. Nowhere is that more worrisome than in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation. The WHO knows of 115 Indonesians infected by H5N1 so far, more than anywhere else.
New international health regulations require countries to share samples of flu viruses. But Indonesia initially refused to share new samples of H5N1. Dr. David Heymann, the WHO's assistant director-general of communicable diseases, said the government in Jakarta has shared about five different samples and specimens.
"From those specimens, (only) one of them produced a virus," he said.
Viruses in the other four specimens didn't survive, or not enough of them were present. That means the WHO and flu researchers around the world have no idea what mutations may be taking place in H5N1 as it circulates among Indonesia's countless chickens and 234 million of people.
Heymann said the problem arose a year ago, when Indonesia's president asked the health minister to develop a stockpile of flu vaccine produced from an Indonesian strain of H5N1.
"When the minister went to procure that vaccine, she found that the price that was being asked of her was the same price that was being asked in industrialized countries. She felt that that was an injustice," Heymann said.
Until rich countries guarantee Indonesia a discount on vaccines produced from its viruses, it won't share virus more samples. A year's worth of tense discussions have failed to resolve the impasse.
The UN's Nabarro said he understands Indonesia's position. He also sees why Indonesia and other developing countries do not want to rely on promises that they'll get their fair share of vaccines.
Nabarro said they worry that when a pandemic comes, the rich countries will say" "'Sorry, we need all the spare vaccine that's around the place for our people. We're going to have very little to spare for you poorer countries.'"
Resolving the dispute is one of the WHO's priorities for 2008.
12-26-2007, 07:50 PM
Yeaaaaaaaah, virus evolution is a strange thing. It can be static for years and years and suddenly make the leap and go wild. I wouldn't cross it off the potential pandemics list yet. Quite worrying vis-a-vis the squabble over sharing the virus strain. I can see Indonesia's point though... what is it really going to get out of it?
12-26-2007, 08:44 PM
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books written for girls
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Join Date: Apr 2006
i say we ditch all this and go back to mad cow disease!
12-26-2007, 11:23 PM
give it time no ones song, give it time!
let's just revel in the possibility of a bird flu pandemic for the time being. Or be terrified. whichever you'd like is a-okay.
12-27-2007, 05:40 AM
Has it seriously been 10 years?!
I guess it's possible that the pandemic has been prevented by the fact that our governments acted in a timely and sensible fashion, but... no, that's just not like them at all, especially since their official plan seemed to be "vaccinate everyone, or if there's not time, most people".
Can we start another healthscare though? It'll be fun. Someone, quick, pick an animal you'd like to see culled.
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