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December 10, 2004

Bird Flu(Avian Influenza) Outbreak Fears Spark Action - Up To 100 Million People Could Die

Topics: International News

Note: There is a Jan 10, 2005 update to the potential avian influenza pandemic. is reporting for December 10 that China is preparing for a scenario where 25 per cent of its 1.3 billion people are hit by a flu pandemic.

Chinese health officials are drawing up plans to deal with a pandemic as the World Health Organisation warns that flu spread from birds to humans could kill up to 100 million before a vaccine is ready.

Senior WHO officials yesterday spoke of a contingency where up to 25 per cent of China's 1.3 billion people are stricken with a new form of flu, which even if not fatal in most cases, could bring the country's food and other vital supplies to a halt.

Earlier this month, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, Shigeru Omi, warned of his fears about avian flu, currently spread from birds to humans in close contact at farms and markets, mutating or combining with another virus to spread from human to human.

"We are talking at least 7 million (deaths), but maybe more - 10 million, 20 million and the worst case 100 million," Dr Omi said at a meeting of health ministers from 13 Asian countries in Bangkok.

The CDC operates an Avian Influenza website. On the site you will find some background information about avian influenza, including recent outbreaks, the viruses, and the risk to human health.

At the CDC site there is a report on "Outbreaks in Asia" dated Nov 19, 2004 that contains the following paragraph;

As of November 18, 2004, there have been 44 confirmed human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) resulting in 32 deaths. For more information about H5N1 infections in humans, visit the World Health Organization (WHO) website at

According to the same article, if these H5N1 viruses(avian influenza A) gain the ability for efficient and sustained transmission between humans, there is little preexisting natural immunity to H5N1 in the human population, and an influenza pandemic could result, with high rates of illness and death.

The following abstract from the research journal "Enferm Infecc Microbiol Clin. 2004 Aug-Sep;22(7):412-8, describes the situation as of Sept 04":

Avian influenza affects most types of birds and occurs in epidemics on poultry farms. The fatal disease is named "highly pathogenic avian influenza" and is caused by influenza A virus subtypes H5 and H7. The natural reservoir is the migratory waterfowl that occasionally infects domestic poultry. In 1997 in Hong Kong, 18 persons were infected and 6 of them died. At the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004, avian influenza H5N1 infected numerous farms in several South-Eastern Asian countries. The virus was transmitted to humans in close contact with infected birds. A total of 34 persons were infected and 23 of them died. There is currently a considerable concern about the H5N1 avian influenza that has infected humans: the high virulence, evolution rate, the possibility of recombination with other influenza viruses, how H5N1 variants that infect humans or different approaches to the development of influenza vaccines.  Source - PMID: 15355771(PubMed I.D.#).

As though this wasn't enough to alert us, according to "Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 May 25;101(21):8156-61. Epub 2004 May 17," the hemagglutinin of recent human isolates has undergone significant antigenic drift. Like the 1997 human H5N1 isolates, the 2003 human H5N1 isolates induced the overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines by primary human macrophages in vitro, whereas the precursor H5N1 viruses and other H5N1 reassortants isolated in 2001 did not.

This acquisition by the viruses of characteristics that enhance virulence in humans and waterfowl and their potential for wider distribution by infected migrating birds (unlike the precursor H5N1 viruses and other H5N1 reassortants of 2001) are causes for renewed pandemic concern.

I predict that we are going to hear much more about this in the near future.

Posted by Hyscience at December 10, 2004 4:30 AM

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