Bird Flu Alarm

Understanding Avian Influenza

World Has Lost Control of Bird Flu

World Has Lost Control of Bird Flu

Summary: Global human pandemic of bird flu or similar virus is only a matter of time according to the World Health Organisation. World Bank says cost to wealthy nations alone up to $550bn. Several countries talk about closing borders if needed. "Worst-case" death toll remains very unlikely if appropriate action is taken at every stage, and a pandemic could turn out to be no more serious than a larger-than-usual outbreak of ordinary flu. Greatest risk could be emotional reaction to spread. However US government worst-case estimate is 1.9 million US deaths. UK government's worst-case is 800,000 deaths. UN global worst-case is 60 million deaths and 2% fall in output of the global economy.

Read this non-technical article first (updated 1st November 2005), then if needed, summary of WHO factsheet and infection guidelines is found below

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Lee Jong-Wook said on November 6th 2005 that the H5N1 avian influenza virus was spreading fast. "We have been experiencing the relentless spread of avian flu. Migratory birds, as they move around the world to seasonal breeding and feeding grounds, are infecting domestic poultry flocks around the world." He said it was only a matter of time before an avian flu virus, most likely H5N1, acquired the ability to be transmitted from human to human.

David Nabarro Bird Flu chief at the UN / WHO, declared in October 2005 that a human pandemic of bird flu can no longer be prevented, even though the first human to human case has yet to be verified.

This WHO prediction is based on the fact that the world has lost control of bird flu. Every time a human catches the infection from close contact with such a bird there is a small risk that the virus will mutate - if the person is already infected with ordinary human flu.

The US has committed $7bn to help prepare the country for what is being increasingly seen by the government as an inevitable major flu pandemic with high mortality - whether from a bird flu mutation or a totally new new viral type. "The only question is when."

US worst-case estimate is anywhere between 200,000 and 1.9 million deaths with 92 million others becoming ill. The government annnounced in early December 2005 that they had modelled a theoretical outbreak of human to human bird flu in Thailand, which produced an estimate of up to 722,000 cases just 6 weeks later across America, rising to 92 million cases just 10 weeks after that. Clearly spread at such speed would overwhelm health care systems, and would happen too fast for vaccines to be prepared and given.

A moderately severe pandemic on the scale of the 1968 pandemic, adjusted for the growth in US population, would cost the US economy $180bn not including business disruption.

The UK government has declared bird flu as public health enemy number 1. It has given a commitment to try and vaccinate the entire population of the country against the new human variant once one emerges, even though spread of such a virus could occur months before vaccinations are manufactured and given.