Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-01-Iraqi Doctors Desperately Short Of Bird Flu Medications

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-01-Iraqi Doctors Desperately Short Of Bird Flu Medications

According to medical professionals in northern Iraq, there is a serious shortage of medicines to deal with the sudden outbreak of bird flu in the Sulaimaniyah area. In fact, things are so bad there that their pharmacies have just 30 pills (in total) to treat a growing number of patients.

30 pills would just about treat four patients.

They urgently need supplies of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). These are antiviral medications which help stem the virus' ability to cause serious inflammation in the lungs. According to WHO experts, the H5N1 strain spreads through the lungs infecting them at ten times the speed of normal human flu.

These two drugs are especially effective if they are administered to the patient very early on during the infection (within 48 hours of symptoms appearing). If the patient is not treated early enough they are pretty useless.

Apart from the two people who have died, there are 13 more humans who are probably infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus strain. They are being treated in Sulaimaniyah's main hospital.

The H5N1 bird flu strain is the most virulent (potent, deadly) one. Since 2003 it has killed over 100 million birds and about 80 humans.

Teams of specialists from the European Union and WHO are expected to arrive within the next couple of days.

For us to be able to have a chance of dealing effectively with a looming global flu pandemic, it is important that agencies and governments work together, and quickly. Cases of human and bird infection need to be identified and dealt with quickly.

Experts say it is only a question of time before the H5N1 strain mutates and acquires the ability to spread among human beings (just like normal human flu does). The most likely way the H5N1 strain could do this would be by infecting a human who has the normal flu. The bird flu virus would exchange genetic information with the human flu virus and pick up its ability to jump from human-to-human.

For the moment, the bird flu virus does not infect humans easily. Humans must have physical contact with infected birds in order to be at risk of infection themselves.

Understanding Avian Influenza