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March 29, 2006

UN Expert On Bird Flu: 'Quite Scared'

Topics: Health Issues

bird flu2.jpgThe bird flu is fast becoming a major concern for health departments around the globe, and is already blamed for hundreds of deaths, with a mortality rate of more than 50%. The virus could become endemic in birds everywhere.

Dr. David Nabarro, chief avian flu coordinator for the United Nations, describes himself as "quite scared," especially since the disease has broken out of Asia and reached birds in Africa, Europe and India much faster than he expected it to.

(...) That rampant, explosive spread," he said, "and the dramatic way it's killing poultry so rapidly suggests that we've got a very beastly virus in our midst."

(...) ... he repeatedly said that he is more scared than he was when he took the job in September. In October, he predicted that the virus would reach Africa, where surveillance is so poor that deaths of chickens or humans could easily go undiagnosed for weeks. Last month, he was proved right.

(...) The infection of millions more birds in many more countries "has led to an exponential increase of the load of virus in the world," he said. And influenza is a fast-mutating virus. Each infected bird and person is actually awash in minutely different strains, and it takes lengthy genetic testing to sequence each one -- so if a pandemic strain were to appear, "it might be quite difficult for us to pick up that change when it happens."

(...) To skeptics who doubt that the A(H5N1) strain will become a threat to humans because it has existed for 10 years without doing so, he counters that it had the same 10 years to move out of Southeast Asia but did not until last year, when it shot across half the globe.

(...) Like early AIDS, he said, avian flu has too many unanswered questions, like: Why did the disease, after years of smoldering in poultry, suddenly start hitchhiking in migratory birds? Why does the northern China strain -- the one now spreading westward -- turn up so many false negatives in diagnostic tests? Why did so many people fall sick so quickly in Turkey?

(...) "Bits of the puzzle are missing," he said. "In six months, will we be cursing ourselves for missing some key phenomena now?"

(...) He fears that the virus will soon be endemic in birds everywhere...

In the NYT article, we hear that Dr. Nabarro rejects "gloomy" as a description of his outlook, but if he were an oncologist, his patients would flee. As recently as March 21, we posted that authorities are begining to fear that the H5N1 virus could evolve to develop efficient human-to-human transmission.

Menancingly, only a few adaptations are needed to transform the H5N1 avian influenza virus, commonly known as "bird flu," into a potential pandemic virus. And with continued outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in poultry and wild birds, further human cases are likely.

Related
(3/29/06) 18 Year Old is Fifth Bird Flu Victim in Egypt
(3/29/06) Bird flu hits third Indian state
(3/29/06) Israel culls more chickens suspected of bird flu
(3/29/06) Czech Republic reports first H5N1 bird flu case
(3/29/06)Second bird flu case in CzechRep, first much infectious virus
(3/26) Bird flu detected in Swedish mink
(3/28/06) EU Lab in Great Britain Confirms Bird Flu in Denmark
Ferreting for clues on a likelihood of bird flu pandemic

Posted by Richard at March 29, 2006 7:39 AM



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