Today on Blogcritics
Home » The Threat of Avian Flu

The Threat of Avian Flu

Please Share...Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

In blatant defiance of the White House Press Corps tradition of asking nothing but questions which they ought to already know the answer to over and over again, one reporter at yesterday’s press conference actually brought up a timely and important topic, the threat of Avian Flu.

President Bush was ready with an exhaustive answer – he’s just finished meetings with the United Nations and World Health Organizations on this issue, and has been extensively briefed on the subject. He’s also preparing to host an international conference on the Avian Flu crisis later this year, so the subject is very much on his mind.

The specifics of the president’s response to the question have led to some negative reaction because he suggested the use of the US Military to impose a quarantine within our borders in violation of Posse Comitatus. This has raised concerns for some, but it does seem to be a logical outgrowth of the inability of local authorities to respond to recent major crises like hurricane Katrina, a situation which would be accentuated by the interstate character of the outbreak of a major flu epidemic.

For years concerned commentators like Ralph Nader have been complaining that the administration was not taking the threat of Avian Flu seriously enough. Now that they are apparently taking it seriously, the proposed solutions are stirring up accusations of fearmongering.

Yet the more we learn about the threat of Avian Flu the more alarming it seems. The context in which all epidemics are assessed is the Spanish Flu of 1918, which is now believed to have originated as a bird flu. That virus infected about 25% of the population of the world and had a fatality rate of about 20%, ultimately killing millions of people world wide – about 3% of the total world population or 50 million people. In comparison the Avian Flu has yet to spread far, but it has a fatality rate of as high as 70%. All it would require would be for the virus to break out of the areas in Asia where it is currently contained and begin to pass from one human host to another and it would become an epidemic of unprecedented proportions. The World Health Organization has estimated a potential death toll of as many as 150 million people.

The good news is that so far Avian Flu has not been clearly identified in a form which can be transmitted from human to human. All of the 108 identified cases have been direct transmissions from poultry to people. This has resulted in the extermination of millions of chickens and ducks in Asia in an attempt to control infection of humans, but they keep finding more infected birds.

The danger is that once the flu gets into a human host it tends to mutate rapidly. It’s sort of fortunate that most people exposed to the virus so far have died fairly quickly, because if they lived and carried the virus for an extensive period as is the case with more benign forms of flu, the virus would have time to mutate into a form where it could be transmitted directly to other humans, and they would have time to infect other people.

The development of a human born form of Avian Flu is almost inevitable as more people get exposed to the virus. Other forms of flu mutate seasonally so that eventually vaccines developed for them no longer work, and with time Avian Flu will become an active threat just as Swine Flu did when it jumped from the pig population to humans and became an epidemic in 1976. Since that time it has probably killed 100 million people world wide, and it kills about 30,000 a year in the US alone. Because Avian FLu has a much higher fatality rate than Swine Flu the impact of an epidemic outbreak would be unprecedented.

Another problem has been the difficulty of producing a vaccine for Avian Flu. A vaccine developed to treat it in poultry has proven to be ineffective, and because the exact form it will take in humans during an epidemic is not known, no one has been successful in developing a human vaccine yet. And as has been demonstrated with past flu vaccines, they are not entirely effective, can be dangerous themselves, and become less and less effective as the virus mutates as it passes from host to host.

The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control have made Avian Flu their highest priority, and the president is clearly very aware of the issue, but as a whole people aren’t taking the threat seriously, largely because they aren’t aware of the scale of past Flu outbreaks and the potential of this virus. People tend to think of Influenza as an irritating virus which lays you up for a couple of days of misery. What they don’t realize is that even this mild form of flu kills hundreds of thousands world wide every year. Avian Flu is so much more virulent that the potential impact is almost inconceivable, dwarfing recent natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis.

Proposals to deal with the virus once it breaks out here in the US are inefficient and ineffective. Some, like Senator Tom Harkin, have suggested stockpiling vaccine in preparation for the outbreak, but the fact is that we don’t have a vaccine which we can count on to work at all against this strain of Flu, so such efforts may be wasted. Even the president’s plan for extreme quarantine measures might not work at all because of the likely scale of an outbreak and the difficulties of controlling the movement of population in modern society.

The only viable way to really address this threat is at the source, before it takes a communicable form in humans and begins to spread as an epidemic. That’s what the internatonal Avian Flu conference which begins tomorrow in Washington DC will address. 65 countries are expected to attend, but it’s unlikely that any immediate solution will come from it, because the countries where the disease currently exists like Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are poorly equipped to deal with an emergent epidemic and difficult to work with. The conference is an essential step in the right direction, because it is going to take the full participation of the international community and the cooperation of the problem countries to solve this problem before what is seen by experts as its inevitable outbreak as a pandemic among humans.

For a detailed video report on Avian Flu, see CNN

To read the full transcript of the president’s Press Conference with his proposals on this subject, check out the State Department website.

For additional useful information see the report on the European Health Alliance website.

Powered by

About Dave Nalle

  • Lumpy

    Isn’t it possible that when it mutates into a contagious form in a new host it will be less lethal than it is when caught directly from a bied?

    And what about migratory birds bringing it direct to the US. Scary.

    lumpster

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    As with just about everything in biological science, we just don’t know the answers to the important questions.

    Perhaps this strain will never mutate to infect human populations, via human-to-human transmission.

    Perhaps it will, but in doing so it will become much less deadly.

    Or perhaps it will mutate to human-to-human transmission in just a few days, and will kill hundreds of millions of people, even in deeloped countries like the US.

    We just don’t know what will happen. But we DO need a plan for the worst-case scenario…

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “deeloped” = developed…

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    I remember the Swine Flu thing as not happening. People got sick from the vaccine that they urged on us, but I don’t remember serious outbreaks. Does anyone else remember them?

    This whole thing bird flu thing feels like fear mongering. They are always trying to traumatize us with this but it doesn’t feel real to me. It feels like another thing to panic about. As Louis Pasteur said,

    “The microbe is nothing, the territory is everything.”

    But what did he know?

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    The original Swine Flu outbreak in 1976 was real and was the worst flu epidemic since 1918. Subsequent reappearances have not been as bad as expected, at least partially because of resistences built up during previous visits from the bug.

    The key thing with Avian Flu is not the combination of inevitability – it will eventually spread to humans – and the unpredictability – it could be nothing or it could be more deadly than the Spanish Flu. And right now the cases we do have suggest high mortality. The combination of inevitability and unpredictability means we have to prepare as soon as possible and stay prepared for as long as necessary.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    It won’t matter; when/if this thing finally develops & starts spreading, there will be no time to develop a vaccine, let alone get it to a huge population pool, especially in poorer, overpopulated countries in asia. I can pretty much guarantee that here in the US, what vaccine there will be – if any – will be very limited, ‘secret’ (so as not to cause rioting when word gets out it’s restricted), and restricted only to VIPS & the very rich; the rest of us will have to fend for ourselves. Actually, probably the only even minimally effective drug that may be available will be something like Ribavirin, & it will only blunt the virus, not surmount it.

    Frankly I totally doubt the US (i.e. the administration, FEMA, WHO, CDC, et al) will be any better prepared to respond to a pandemic than they were/are to a hurricane or terrorist attack. As far as Bush’s vaunted “quarantine” idea goes, the Chinese have already amply demonstrated with the SARS epidemic that people simply ignore it & do what they want; especially in other parts of the world there is too much corruption for the various governments to guarantee tight enforcement of same. In the US, there is too much laxness due to overconcern with ‘rights’ to roam in & out of the country, not to mention the inevitable SNAFUs created by the bureaucracies, federal, state, & local. If we can’t control millions of illegals pouring over our borders, I’d be interested to hear how Bush thinks he’s going to control refugees from the flu, unless perhaps he’s prepared to create “dead zones” & shoot to kill anyone who enters without authorization? (which I doubt).

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Wouldn’t there just be large-scale distribution of the medicines we now use to treat viruses?

    Every year, there’s a new flu that emanates from somewhere in Asia and that we don’t have the appropriate vaccine for. And every year we turn to the wide variety of available drugs and as a nation survive the scare, no?

    Didn’t we just go through a scare last winter — with not enough vaccines, the wrong vaccines, etc.? How many deaths came from that?

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    I think it takes a year (?) for flu vaccines to get made and distributed from a new form of flu. It’s at least six months. I don’t especially believe in flu vaccines and “anti-virals” anyway. I guess there’s other things they could do but they seem draconian and inhumane. I think if we work with nature, that is the best way. This seems like some big scare party for the usual suspects to garner attention, media, CDC, etc.

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Perhaps to take our minds off other things in the news …

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    We’ve flown the coop and have chosen to wag the chicken.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Regardless of any chicken wagging, we should be proactive about something (and this something in particular) once in awhile rather than always playing catchup.

  • JR

    David R. Mark: Didn’t we just go through a scare last winter — with not enough vaccines, the wrong vaccines, etc.? How many deaths came from that?

    Yeah, we also went through a scare last year when Hurricane Ivan, headed straight for New Orleans, veered off through the Florida panhandle.

    Maybe this is our lucky year.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>Actually, probably the only even minimally effective drug that may be available will be something like Ribavirin, & it will only blunt the virus, not surmount it. < <

    There's actually a drug like Ribavirin called Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) which is specifically designed for treating flu, but it's expensive, not produced in sufficient volume, and there's virtually no back supply of it as I understand the situation. Plus we don't really know how effective it is, though there is one major study which had pretty positive results.

    >>Frankly I totally doubt the US (i.e. the administration, FEMA, WHO, CDC, et al) will be any better prepared to respond to a pandemic than they were/are to a hurricane or terrorist attack.< <

    That's why I wrote the article. But at least Bush is attempting to address the situaton with this conference.

    >> As far as Bush’s vaunted “quarantine” idea goes, the Chinese have already amply demonstrated with the SARS epidemic that people simply ignore it & do what they want; especially in other parts of the world there is too much corruption for the various governments to guarantee tight enforcement of same. In the US, there is too much laxness due to overconcern with ‘rights’ to roam in & out of the country, not to mention the inevitable SNAFUs created by the bureaucracies, federal, state, & local. If we can’t control millions of illegals pouring over our borders, I’d be interested to hear how Bush thinks he’s going to control refugees from the flu, unless perhaps he’s prepared to create “dead zones” & shoot to kill anyone who enters without authorization? (which I doubt).<<

    Yep, a quarantine is of dubious value. But we have been successful in controlling Mad Cow disease by going after the infected livestock. We need to do the same thing here and really aggressively go after the poultry.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>I think if we work with nature, that is the best way. < <

    The best way to have 100,000 dead in the US alone.

    >>This seems like some big scare party for the usual suspects to garner attention, media, CDC, etc.

    Perhaps to take our minds off other things in the news …<<

    Maybe put aside your partisan paranoia for a minute. This isnt’ something Bush made up. This is the #1 threat priority of the WHO which isn’t exactly under Bush’s control. The fact that Bush is taking it so seriously is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    Dave

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Just remind me, though, how many Americans died last year when we didn’t have the right vaccine for last year’s flu?

    I remember that the government had a contract with a British company which didn’t produce the right vaccine — and then there were no back-up contracts, so for a while, there was no good vaccines available.

    Anybody remember what happened next?

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    I remember that problem but I don’t know if it did, indeed result in deaths. Flu vaccines are not of the current year’s germs. They are a year old or more, I think.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>Just remind me, though, how many Americans died last year when we didn’t have the right vaccine for last year’s flu? < <

    There was more than one flu in circulation last year and the vaccine we had was good for most strains. All told there were about 1000 deaths - which is relatively low. Most years it's higher.

    >>I remember that the government had a contract with a British company which didn’t produce the right vaccine — and then there were no back-up contracts, so for a while, there was no good vaccines available. < <

    Actually, they produced faulty vaccine which had to be destroyed. It wasn't the wrong kind, it was unsafe.

    >>Anybody remember what happened next?<<

    Vaccine was rationed so the highest risk people got it and things worked out okay.

    But the point is that we got lucky in the fact that more virulent strains like Avian Flu did not pop up last year. That doesn’t mean that they won’t eventually and it could be any time.

    Dave

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    Why do you think there were fewer people taking flu vaccines and fewer flu deaths? Isn’t there supposed to be the opposite correlation?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Cerulean, I know you belong to the tinfoil hat club, but let’s not even go there. There were only 20 documented cases of flu vaccine causing flu last year, and that’s pretty typical. The people who die are NOT the ones who get the vaccines.

    Dave

  • troll

    Dave: *Maybe put aside your partisan paranoia for a minute. This isnt’ something Bush made up. This is the #1 threat priority of the WHO which isn’t exactly under Bush’s control. The fact that Bush is taking it so seriously is a good thing, not a bad thing.*

    a true nonpartisan statement -!- this particulae H5N1 virus has been working on getting into humans in a big way since the ’97(I believe)Hong Kong outbreak –

    get a pneumococcal vaccine (usually reserved for the elderly) – the majority of 1918 deaths were caused by pneumonia secondary to influenza

    we’ll see if Bush & Co come up with a workable response plan or use the threat as another distracting side show

    this must be the most unlucky administration ever

    troll

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Troll, one of the concerns with H5N1 is that it isn’t killing the elderly with Pneumonia or even babies, it’s killing otherwide healthy adults with extreme high fever, which is quite different from most previous flus.

    And the Hong Kong flu, like the 1918 flu was also avian in origin, but it wasn’t H5N1.

    Dave

  • troll

    Dave – the ’97 outbreak was H5N1 – check it out

    when the virus goes pandemic it is likely that the situation will be similar to 1918 when pneumonia was in fact a major issue

    while there might well be no vaccine to protect the population from death by influenza there is a vaccine for pneumonia – not enough doses but what else is new in the middle of a decimated public health system

    troll

  • troll

    Dave – you were thinking of the ’68 outbreak

    troll

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Weird. If ’97 was H5N1, then why are they saying that H5N1 has never been contagious from human to human. And if it was Hong Kong flu, then it’s still around as part of the melange of yearly flu already.

    Hmmm. Did some research. It looks like the Hong Kong flu that was H5N1 was not whatever people were actually catching in ’97, since there were only 18 cases of it with one death. Seems that people were actually catching good old H1N1 and H3N2 and calling it Hong Kong flu because of the publicity surrounding H5N1 – strangely reminiscent of our current situation.

    Dave

  • troll

    H5N1 never made it out of Hong Kong in ’97 – a massive chicken slaughter and poor person to person transmissibility contained it

    my point was that H5N1 has been workin the person to person angle for a while

    troll

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    The numbers who have caught H5N1 this time are considerably larger than in 97, and the key to human transmission is more people having it. It’s when flu is in human hosts that it mutates and becomes more aggressive, so more human hosts means more risk of it becoming a variant suitable for causing an epidemic. So that’s why it’s a big issue now.

    Dave

  • troll

    *It’s when flu is in human hosts that it mutates and becomes more aggressive, so more human hosts means more risk of it becoming a variant suitable for causing an epidemic. So that’s why it’s a big issue now.*

    Yup

    In addition to guarding against pneumonia you can try to stockpile some tamiflu for your familia if your doc is willing and able to get you some…but its not clear that it will remain effective against H5N1 as it mutates

    troll

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Regardless of any chicken wagging, we should be proactive about something (and this something in particular) once in awhile rather than always playing catchup.

    DJR, I’m blue in the face on that one. We’re proactive about nothing in this country. The thought of saving for a rainy day hardly exists anymore. Again, this failure is the shoulders of the American people. Marginal voters elect marginal candidates which breeds marginal government.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    The folks on Air America radio last night were claiming that ‘rich people’ had bought up all the Tamiflu because Donald Rumsfeld used to be the Chairman of Roche and told them to buy it all, so there’s none left for the rest of us.

    However, checking with a variety of Canadian and US pharmacies I find it easily available at a fairly reasonable price. All you have to do is convince your doctor to give you a prescription.

    Dave

  • troll

    *The folks on Air America radio last night were claiming that ‘rich people’ had bought up all the Tamiflu because Donald Rumsfeld used to be the Chairman of Roche and told them to buy it all, so there’s none left for the rest of us.*

    lol

    another interesting containment approach is a simple saline nasal spray which impedes the shedding and ‘aerosolization’ of the virus in sneezes

    not sure what companies are working on this one

    be proactive and informed – the gov isn’t going to be able to help much when this shit hits the fan except with radical quarantine

    oh yeah – wash your hands alot

    troll

  • RogerMDillion

    I don’t know what everyone is worried. I’m sure the Intelligent Design behind the flu will keep Americans from catching it.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    One might argue that intelligently designed flu would wipe out about half the population and we’d all be better off.

    Dave

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    I recently took a course on epidemiology. The text was horribly dull, so I mostly skimmed it.

    (I somehow got an “A” despite this…)

    Anyway, one of the things I did manage to learn was that humans, once infected with a contagious pathogen, often will spread the disease all around them for several days until the first symptoms appear.

    And then it is often many more days until doctors and scientists have enough info to determine that a major outbreak has occurred.

    And by that time, the virus could be on six continents…

    So, how about we humans unite in a battle to prevent this from happening, rather than bitching about politics?

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    On the other hand, RJ, exposing certain segments of society to the flu may solve many problems. But until then, I’m with you. Screw the politics, let’s kick this thing.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    As I understand it, with most viruses it is the period right before symptoms appear that a person is most contagious. As for a solution, if this conference is what I think it is, it’s going to come down heavy on the dozen or so rather backwards and chicken-obsessed countries where the virus is a problem and presumably find a way to take money and resources from the wealthy countries who don’t want to be infected and use it to pay the poor countries to kill one hell of a lot of chickens and ducks.

    Dave

  • dr tuiii

    The flu epidemic of 1918 killed 50m,illion people, and was acused by world war one, and the evil kaiser and tsar of russia’ war

  • gfhgfhf

    this is more than stalin killed, but ohhhhhhhh, never say that, as we have top pretend stalin was worse than teh kaiser, and tsar, for no good reasons, other than our slavery to kinsgs and capitalists, and thug national guardsmen, and arnie teh nazi

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    You two seem to speak your own unique language. #36 was bizarre and incomprehensible, but even more bizarre was that gfhghf seemed to actually understand it and was able to respond in the same language.

    Is this something they teach at infowars.com?

    Dave

  • http://- SASRF

    ARE DOMESTIC PIGEONS IN NON-ENDEMIC AREAS AFFECTED ??

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I haven’t heard of avian flu in pigeons being a problem, though it could certainly be transmitted to them. But if you’re outside of southeast asia I wouldn’t expect pigeon contagion to be an issue at all yet, unless you’ve recently imported some asian pigeons.

    Dave

  • troll

    Interesting report on developments in the vaccine world

    in the nick of time or too little too late – ?

    which kind of a future do you believe in

    troll

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I have been following the progress of the bird flu since January, 2005.

    I would suggest looking at the Recombinomics website http://www.recombinomics.com for real information. You can’t develop a vaccine for a disease you don’t have yet, and unless human to human transmission of bird flu has begun, there is no disease sample to work from to develop a vaccine.

    Tamiflu, the vaccine being hustled as a protection against bird flu, can’t even be tested for its effectiveness against it. To our knowledge, there are no human-to-human transmissions to test against.

    So, at best, Tamiflu is a crap shoot.

    Looked at in this light, much of the “preparations” being made to deal with a serious outbreak of bird flu, show themselves for what they are – panic control and sugar pills.

    Now let’s take another look at the numbers suggested by the mortality rates of the H5N1 virus – 70%.

    If there are 6.5 billion people on the planet, and this bird flu manages to inflect 5% of that population, or 325 million people, and about 70% of them die from it, you have a death toll of approximately 227.5 million people. Even the boys at the WHO, who have been the most persistent complainers about the danger of bird flu, can’t bring themselves to publish such a number.

    At an infection rate of 10%, this death rate doubles to 455 million people – roughly 8% of the planetary population.

    If efficient human to human transmission does develop, I suggest that the infection rates may be higher than 5%.

  • troll

    Ruvy – the interesting thing about this vaccine work is that developers are targeting structures believed to be common to all influenza viruses

    as for your numbers – they are possibly accurate give or take two or three hundred million…point being that infectivity and mortality rates will change as the virus mutates and numbers at this point are highly speculative

    if I’m not mistaken the death rate in ’18-’19 ended up at around 3% of the infected

    troll

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I learned another lovely tidbit about avian flu last night. Apparently because H5N1 actually kills the eggs in which the vaccine would be cultured, they don’t even have a way to produce vaccine yet, though someone is working on a synthetic culturing medium. Imagine what that does to the chance of producing any volume of vaccine in any kind of haste.

    Dave

  • troll

    BTW – tamiflu is not a vaccine – but it is a crap shoot…some strains of H5N1 have developed resistance to it already

    troll

  • Corke Ann

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
    What could happen if everyone panics, starts stampeding and holding up Red Cross mobile clinics taking the volunteers hostage? Wouldn’t that be a sweet time for the creators of national terror to step up behind the candy counter at the onset of an epidemic and offer flu vaccine for sll those “their government has forgotten.” A chance for life or some such garbage and in this way introduce a strain of virus that may knock the punch out of the flu but leaves any one who takes it sterile. You said HSN1 kills eggs. So the ones who survived the flu would be rendered sterile; I can almost hear the devil laughing with delight and applauding the section that takes great pleasure and goes to great lengths to design ways help us cut our own throats. Hasty serum put the fearum.