Sunday, September 25, 2005

Indonesia situation still evolving, WHO's isn't

Emerging from a connectionless two days, I was hoping to find the bird flu situation in Indonesia stabilizing, or even better, to be improving. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell that hasn't happened. Antara News (The Organization of Asian-Pacific News Services) reports that the number of suspected patients hospitalized in Jakarta's Sulianti Saroso hospital is now 21, an increase of at least four from last Friday. The three admitted on Saturday were all visitors to the (now closed) Ragunan Zoo, where dozens of birds were found infected with H5N1 last weekend.

WHO is also confirming that the 8 year old nephew of the woman who died of bird flu September 16 also is infected. In a sense this isn't news as it was obvious days ago this was a case. The virus from the Aunt and her nephew are undergoing sequencing. But as Niman (at Recombinomics, various posts voer the alst year) has repeatedly pointed out, the criterion WHO seems to be using for evidence of a genetic shift in the virus is the presence of human reassorted genes. If there is significant recombination occurring, this is sufficient to produce mutations that permit efficient human to human transmission. Thus WHO's statements about any lack of genetic change of the virus must now be discounted.

Given the number of people with casual contact at the zoo now infected, it should be obvious an important change in the virus has occurred to allow such efficient transmission from birds. The evidence of human-to-human transmission here is also strong. On the one hand WHO is sounding urgent warnings a pandemic is imminent and inevitable while on the other it dismisses evidence this is in the process of happening right now, probably because of the consequences this will have for Indonesia and international trade and tourism in Asia.

WHO's deference to its member nations is an established practice, based in international law. It was only during the 2003 SARS outbreak WHO they began to depart from it, announcing travel warnings against the wishes of some member nations. It is past time for WHO to have the guts to act independently again and to sort out the political repercussions later, when the dust settles.

Meanwhile, I'm not going to bother listening to what they say.