Friday, March 03, 2006

Bird Flu spreading

Where the birds are

The news is generally as expected with bird flu at the moment: it's spreading, and only a few people are dying. About four thousand cases have been found in birds all over Europe, and there have been 94 deaths, all from people with direct or relatively close access to the sickened birds. All but 2 of the 94 deaths so far have been in Southeast Asia. This is a sad but expected part of the story, given the close poultry-human proximity throughout that region.

The one exception to the expected flow of the disease worldwide is that bird flu was recently found in a commercial poultry farm in France. instead of the migratory birds. This illness is devastating to birds in close quarters, and the financial costs, both direct (from vaccinating or killing all potentially affected birds) and indirect (from scared consumers across Europe avoiding poultry) will be huge:
Within the past week, the H5N1 strain of avian flu has been confirmed in two wild ducks and 16 wild swans and in turkeys on a farm in eastern France -- the first domestic cases found in a country belonging to the European Union. Poultry sales in France have plummeted by an estimated 30 percent, millions of free-range birds have been forced into barns to prevent contact with wild birds, and President Jacques Chirac -- leader of the world's fourth-largest poultry-producing nation -- has gone on a public chicken-eating campaign and appealed to the French not to panic.
In the U.S., this news from France is doubtless leading to even more clenched sphincters among our commercial farmers. Yesterday the federal government announced it was stockpiling more Tamiflu, and also taking baby steps to speed the delivery of vaccines in the future. NewsHour had a good interview with someone from the EU and Tony Fauci, who say that things are progressing more or less as they expected.

No one can say when Bird Flu will become pandemic. An epidemiologist I talked to last October cheerily assured me that it could take twenty years or happen tomorrow — the only thing certain is that it would become pandemic. As always, the Bird Flu Wiki has a great deal of information, and the NewsHour's bird flu area is updated infrequently.

(Flyway image taken from Newshour)


Blogger Shotgun Toting Nascar Driving Jesus said...

Sorry but i've heard this song before. The bird flu threat may be real, but i just can't get that worried about it since they've cried wolf way to many times before. Remember SARS? West Nile Virus? How about the Killer Bees? Let's not forget the flesh-eating virus. I don't know it just seems like the same old story with different actors.

Friday, 03 March, 2006  
Blogger travis said...

Sure, but I also remember the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, which killed more people than world war I with a very similar virus. Also, SARS did kill people in multiple countries, and it was only extremely aggressive action by WHO that stopped it. Don't mistake a public health success story for a lack of risk.

You're certainly right that these things are used to move newspapers and keep people glued to the set. Ebola: booga booga! Maybe Bird Flu won't convert to a more infectious form, but it's a risk that's insanely higher than, say, AIDS or Hep C, because of the rapidity of death.

Friday, 03 March, 2006  
Blogger Connie said...

I don't know what to think yet. Scared is not accurate. But I'm definitely concerned. This is not the reason for me posting a comment. It's the "clenched sphincters" that made me do so. Nice comic relief in an otherwise serious posting.

(Leave it to the rhetoric major to focus on a small literary detail and not the larger point. There's more where that came from.)

Friday, 03 March, 2006  
Blogger travis said...

Concerned but not scared is perfect. If there is a pandemic, the millions of people will die. That would be awful. But you know, that's life: no one gets out alive.

There's no reason to be scared now, because a) it's not happening, and b) if it were happening, there's not much you could do. So let's just keep on dancing.

Friday, 03 March, 2006  
Blogger travis said...

... But definitely check out the Bird Flu wiki if you're concerned.

Friday, 03 March, 2006  

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