In Brief... World News Review: Avian Influenza A Worldwide Plague

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In Brief... World News Review

Avian Influenza A Worldwide Plague

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The February issue of The New Yorker magazine ran an article on the potential of avian influenza, the so-called "bird flu" of Asia. It's a killer, leaving hundreds of millions of dead animals in its wake across a dozen Asian countries.

Last December, the outgoing secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, called the avian flu one of the greatest dangers facing the United States.

The director of the CDC's Thailand office tells of watching thousands of seemingly healthy birds suddenly begin to shake, and then, simply fall over dead. It is shocking to see.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the avian flu has jumped species to human beings and that it is just as deadly for the people who become infected. So far, the death toll numbers only in the dozens in Vietnam, Thailand and other Asian countries. But the potential is much, much more serious.

The World Health Organization (WHO) puts the current ratio of fatalities to cases at 72.5 percent. It also issued a report early this year on "influenza pandemic preparedness and response" in bleak terms: "The present situation may resemble that leading to the 1918 pandemic."

The WHO's conservative estimate of the deaths from a worldwide epidemic is 7 million. "Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, calculates that a pandemic on the scale of the devastating global influenza epidemic of 1918 would kill at least a hundred and eighty million people today" ("Avian Flu, on the Verge of an Epidemic," The New Yorker, cited on, Feb. 20, 2005, emphasis added). Over 40 million people died in the 1918 flu pandemic.

The same article quotes Robert Webster, a virologist who has been studying this strain of influenza for decades as calling it "... the worst flu virus I have ever seen or worked with or read about."

Health officials are working hard to try to contain the flu in Asia. Last September the HHS announced a contract to manufacture and store 2 million vaccinations for the United States.

Webster advises that we have to prepare for this flu in the same way that we would prepare for going to war, calling the disease "a natural bioterrorist." WNP

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