Friday, January 21, 2005

Hitting the bird flu snooze alarm again

I considered making this an update of the previous post, but it is really too important not to let stand on its own. WHO is now saying they believe Viet Nam's seventh death from bird flu in Hanoi infected his younger brother who was taking care of him (via Helen Branswell, CNEWS, Canada). While possible the brothers were infected from the same meal of sick duck, the nine day gap between onset of their illnesses argues against it, according to Klaus Stohr, WHO's chief influenza specialist in Geneva. At this point there is no evidence of further transmission in the family or the immediate community, but if confirmed this would be the fifth case of person-to-person transmission of H5N1 since the disease appeared in humans in 1997.

Despite the infrequency of occurrence, experts sound increasingly worried:
"I still am absolutely convinced that it is still just a matter of time in Southeast Asia before this thing blows," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

"One day we're likely to wake up and find a number of people in a given household, in a particular work area, in a given village where we've got evidence of widespread transmission - and we no longer can account for that through bird-to-human transmission."
WHO's Stohr is equally pessimistic:
"I would like to believe that it's not going to happen. I would like to believe we will continue to see individual cases which are not going to be transmitted. I would like to believe this virus is not reassorting," he said.

"Unfortunately all the data we have would tell us otherwise.... There is too much at stake just to hope for luck."
Somebody needs to tell President Bush that it's not democracy and freedom that is likely to spread around the world under his "leadership." Instead of cavorting at obscenely costly inaugural events he should be instructing his public health establishment to sound the alarm that we may soon come under attack by a Virus of Mass Destruction.

Unfortunately the response to the Viet Nam wake-up call seems to be to hit the snooze alarm once again. Just a few more minutes sleep, please.

Many people voted for Bush because they thought he would "keep us safe." Now that's irony.