Because
while scientists predict that the virus may become less pathogenic when
it adapts to humans, even with much lower virulence the human and economic cost would be high, says Haruhiko Kuroda in the Financial Times.


Potentially, extremely high. In 1918-1919 I have argued that mortality
was 50-100 million [Johnson & Mueller 2002] from a morbidity of
perhaps 1 billion (50% of the estimated global population). A linear
extrapolation to a global population of 6 billion indicates 3 billion
ill (all in a short period of time). Even with a low fatality rate
(even 1918-19 rarely exhibited high deathrates) this means millions of deaths are possible.

Because Australian customs officers discovered
that 102 pigeons exposed to the bird flu made it to our shores, with
three of the birds imported from Canada testing positive to bird flu
antibodies.


This is not evidence of the virus in Australia. Rather it indicates
these birds have at some time in the past been in contact with the
virus.

Because the European Union seems to be panicking, says The Economist.
After outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain were confirmed in Russia,
Romania, Turkey and possibly Greece, the EU’s ministers held urgent
meetings to discuss how to tackle an epidemic that could devastate the
poultry industry or, worse, if the virus changes to become more easily
communicable among people, set off a human influenza pandemic that
threatens the lives of millions.


Preparation is very important, but panic is not useful.

Because bird flu has claimed another human life
– this time a Thai villager, who contracted the disease when handling
contaminated dead chickens. And though it’s been a year since the virus
last killed someone in Thailand, this highlights the difficulties
south-east Asian countries still face in stamping out the disease.


The number of deaths attributed to bird flu globally is still under three figures.

Why we SHOULDN’T panic:

Because the Prime Minister says
so. While acknowledging that Australia is at risk from the virus, John
Howard says the government is taking all the precautions it can,
including trying to remedy the situation in which the public is finding
it hard to access anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu.


Australia’s preparations appear more advanced than in many other countries.

Because
the UK’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson says so – he told a
media gathering this week that a pandemic was unlikely this European
winter, says the Financial Times.

OK.

Because fear distorts thinking and renders much of the decision-making in epidemics irrational and inefficient, says Raj Persaud in the Financial Times. Managing our fears is as vital at this time as understanding the virus.


Agreed.

Because it’s a beat-up, says Mick Hume in The Times.
No doubt the experts and authorities should have contingency plans for
a possible pandemic, but this doesn’t justify the “public circus of
warnings and point-scoring that is making a melodrama out of a health
crisis, even before one exists.”

Not true. While flu is not an immediate threat today it has the
potential to be a greater and faster pandemic than almost anything else.

Because it’s the regular old human flu we should be worrying about, says Erdal Safak in Turkey’s Sabah (via the
BBC).
World Health Organisation officials warn that the real danger of an
epidemic will appear when these two viruses meet – we should start a
campaign of free flu vaccinations before winter comes.


Hmm. It is the possible re-combination of bird flu with a human flu
that could create a novel virus with high human-to-human transmission –
a virus that we pass and contract easily and which no human immune
system has any knowledge of. Being vaccinated against the current human
strain(s) is likely to be of little help against a pandemic strain.

Because clinical testing now under way suggests we’ll soon have a viable vaccine, says Dobbs (in Slate).
The biggest trial so far, conducted by drug maker Sanofi-Pasteur, has
found that the company’s vaccine safely produces immunity in healthy
adults. They are now testing it on the elderly and children. Other drug
makers, including Chiron, GlaxoSmithKline, and Medimmune, are running
early trials of other formulations.

We hope so. This is part of the vital preparation in case of the
emergence of a new strain. But a vaccine has to be targetted to the
specific strain. There is some work on different ways to produce
vaccines but it is unclear whether this will be available should we
face a pandemic in the nearer term.

Peter Fray

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