Monday, April 10, 2006

The genie in Myanmar, too

Disease likes secrecy, repression, war and poverty. Myanmar (neƩ Burma) has them all. Including bird flu.

For months public health officials worried the disease was present in the closed society ruled by military dictatorship for almost half a century. Then on March 13 authorities there admitted they had an outbreak of H5N1 in poultry, but said it was limited to two flocks. Now it is revealed it was more extensive than admitted and is spreading faster than expected. The UN now believes there are more than 100 outbreaks in poultry flocks (Reuters). No human cases have been reported, but few are confident they would be detected if they existed. Egypt now has almost a dozen confirmed cases in people and the virus is in birds in many places in sub-Sharan Africa, where poverty, lack of resources and political chaos make ideal breeding grounds for disease. While not yet in North or South America, the thought that this virus can be be kept out is wishful thinking. Good biosecurity measures are helpful in commercial poultry flocks but probably won't stop the virus from finding a comfortable niche in almost any country. And the further thought it can be contained in birds is may be a false hope. It would surely be foolish to act on that hope and fail to take steps to prepare.

It should be obvious the genie is out of the bottle. What it is going to do now, we don't know. But every community should be thinking about it.