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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bird flu

Once per week, the international security crowd here gathers together to talk over coffee and pastry. This is a fairly serious group, often discussing the latest news from Iraq, counterinsurgency strategy, dirty bombs, etc.

This week, most of the conversation focused on avian flu from Asia. The World Health Organization certainly makes it sound like a threat to global security. This is from the AP story:
United Nations officials warned on Wednesday that the Asian bird flu outbreak poses the "gravest possible danger" of becoming a global pandemic...

What health authorities most fear is that the virus will mutate into a form that can pass easily from one human to another. That's when a global threat would be most likely.

The deadly flu of 1918, which killed from 20 million to 50 million people worldwide, didn't appear suddenly but mutated gradually into the deadlier form, Gerberding explained.
Dr. Julie Gerberding is director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This guy is certainly worried:
"We . . . believe that the world is now in the gravest possible danger of a pandemic," said Dr. Shigeru Omi, the World Health Organization's Western Pacific regional director.

He told the conference it is critical that the international community better coordinate the fight against the virus.

"If the virus becomes highly contagious among humans, the health impact in terms of deaths and sickness will be enormous, and certainly much greater than SARS," Omi said, referring to severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed nearly 800 people in 2003.
So far, not that many humans have been infected, but there's evidence of bird-to-human and then human-to-human spread. Infected birds have been found in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam

So far, 70% of all humans who contract this flu die.

Thankfully, that's only 45 people so far...and the AP story talks about a vaccine that the US and other countries are developing. Antiviral drugs may help too.

Next week, of course, I'm flying about 5000 miles towards Asia...

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