Pattaya Daily News

14 April 2008 :: 15:04:52 pm 30005

Bird Flu Greater Threat Than Terrorism

Bird flu of the H5N1 viral strain may have slipped out of the mass public consciousness, yet Britain‘s PM, Gordon Brown, regards it as a worse threat than terrorism, on a par with Europe‘s Black Death of 1348, capable of incapacitating half the UK‘s population in the worst case scenario. An American study has suggested that half of those infected would be hospitalized and millions would die in the first wave.
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UK’s ex-Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, maintains “It is more a question of when rather than if the H5N1 virus mutates into a virulent human form. So far we have noted more than 20 mutations of the virus in only a few years.” A good parallel would be the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed between 20 and 40 million people, more than the World War, itself. It was the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history, when more people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.

At first sight, the alert may seem excessive, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recorded only 238 deaths proven to be from a human variant of the H5N1 virus. Yet there is more consensus on the threat it poses by scientists and security specialists than on climate change and global warming.

The H5N1 virus may have not featured in the news headlines, recently, but it is still very much in evidence. Last week, Egypt recorded the 21st human death from avian flu in about a year. As with a quarter of all human cases, the virus had been transmitted between members of the same family. In Nanjing, China, a 52-year-old man contracted the virus from his 24-year-old son, who picked it up from infected fowl in a poultry market, according to the UK’s leading medical magazine, the Lancet. The man received antiviral medicines and fortunately survived. The bird populations of China, India, Bangladesh and South Korea are currently experiencing major viral outbreaks and Egypt is concerned about it spreading to cats and dogs.

In Britain and the US, public health studies indicate that a mass pandemic would quickly eliminate most of the working population and 60% of the medical staff, necessitating the stepping in by the military.

The spread of the pandemic known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe” gives some clue as to how avian flu might spread. It erupted in pockets around the globe and in two years infected 1/5 of the global population. The flu was most deadly for people aged 20 to 40, whereas in previous influenza strains, it had been the old and children who were most vulnerable. It infected 28% of all Americans (Tice), when an estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in the world war.

The UK government has stockpiled 14.6m courses of Tamiflu, one of two known medicines capable of combating H5N1. However, this may only be effective for a short period and the WHO maintains there were at least two cases when the virus apparently became resistant to Tamiflu .

Research in both the US and UK has strongly suggested that the avian virus would have to mutate two times to penetrate the human sugar chains, lining airways and lungs.

However, for Gordon Brown and other world leaders, it is a case of preparing and issuing warnings without arousing undue panic. That there will be a pandemic is almost certain, according to the Security establishment. The worst-case scenario, however, is if terrorists develop and use the virus as a weapon of mass destruction.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : World News

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