Friday, January 27, 2006

Not betting against the spread

While Turkish Cypriot officials anxiously await tests on dead poultry to see whether they have died of H5N1, a WHO team is headed to Azerbaijan to see what the bird flu situation is there. No outbreaks have been reported there as yet, and the visit is ostensibly to help officials plan prevention activities and look around the capital Baku and several regions. But Turkey suspects there is a problem with its neighbors and I am sure WHO does too.

Thailand has the same suspicions about its neighbors, especially the closed society of Myanmar (aka Burma). The border between the two countries is studded with refugee camps and migrant communities, so local officials and NGOs are getting ready for a possible outbreak by organizing a workshop (Thai News Agency via Xinhuanet).
The workshop, co-organized by the provincial public health office and three international agencies -- the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations' Childrens Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) -- will take place in Tak and is expected to attract over 70 delegates from the provincial government, international organizations, UN agencies and non-government organizations ( NGOs) as well as embassies, theNews Agency disclosed.

Organizers hope that the meeting will help to identify key elements of an avian flu preparedness plan in an attempt to protect refugees and migrants living in crowded camps and communities in close proximity to their livestock, along Tak province's border with neighboring Myanmar, according to the News Agency.
Speaking of closed societies, the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun is reporting at least one human case in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang last month. The capital is also said to be the site of poultry infections. The North Koreans are denying it (naturally), but one of the many defects of a closed society is that no one believes you whether you, whatever the truth of the matter.

Don't forget the newly reported deaths in China and Indonesia. The realization has finally sunk in that bird flu is on the way, extending its reach inexorably. Some places don't know they have it or haven't admitted its presence. Still others know its coming, and probably pretty soon.

Meanwhile the virus is changing, adapting to its many new environments and going about the only business it has in this world, making copies of itself. It doesn't care what it has to do in the process. Since we are the only species we know of with any kind of foresight or ability to plan, you'd think we would be adapting, too.

Maybe we're not as smart as a virus.