Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Another Indonesian death

We have not made it a practice to chronicle every new case of bird flu here because many other sites do this and do it well. We are not a newsfilter but a commentary site, the commentary coming from the public health perspective. Our purpose in reporting yet another bird flu death in Indonesia is simple: to underscore the fact that the current H5N1 outbreak, which started in 2003 - 2004, continues to simmer.

The geographic range of the outbreak has increased dramatically so that the regional panzootic in birds is now on the doorsteps of Europe and the Indian sub-continent, with the apparent means to spread further via infected migratory birds. The host range of this avian virus has extended to many other species, including marine mammals, ferrets, cats (large and small) and mice (in the laboratory). Human cases, like the current one, continue to occur (the official count in this outbreak is 116 with 60 deaths, a conservative estimate). The most worrisome situation now is in the populous country of Indonesia, where the transmission efficiency of the virus from birds to humans seems to have ratcheted up another notch. It is reasonable to assume there are many missed cases in Indonesia, where seven deaths are officially blamed on the disease and over 60 people are under observation as possible cases.

Bird flu has gotten the attention of the Main Stream Media and even the President, at least publicly. But shortly media and public attention will wane and we will be on to some other important topic (like Kate Moss's cocaine use). But the virus will continue to cook away in animals and humans in southeast asia and Indonesia (next door to Australia and the Philippines). It mutates readily and eventually will find the right recipe for better human-to-human transmission. All it cares about is reproducing itself and it is tinkering with the formula to be able to do this in ever better ways.

So the pot is still simmering. Cleaning up the mess when the pot boils over is more difficult if you haven't prepared for it ahead of time. That's what the Flu Wiki is for. Take a look and if you can, lend a hand.