Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On being foolish

Cases and suspected cases of avian (bird) flu are continuing to appear in Indonesia, with reports now coming in from outside the capital of Jakarta where most of the cases so far have been reported. Agence France Presse (AFP) now says 57 people are being treated for suspected bird flu, 20 at Jakarta's Sulianti Saroso hospital for infectious diseases. In addition, The Jakarta Post reports four people from outside the capital in Java hospitalized, some as much as a week ago (see also here).

Many of these cases also report contact with or simultaneous illness of poultry, usually chickens. Since contact with or living in the vicinity of poultry is extremely common in Indonesia, this cannot be taken as proof the person contracted the virus from the birds. Even if they did, the number of cases now piling up and the evidence from the zoo that even casual contact with infected birds is sufficient signals a change in the transmission efficiency of the virus.

It is difficult to get accurate information from a region where the situation is changing rapidly, communication is poor, and there are many social and political factors distorting an accurate message. But it would be foolish to do anything but assume the evolving Indonesian story is anything but extremely serious and bird flu is possibly epidemic in the country.

Unfortunately, foolish attitudes are quite common these days.