© 2006 RogueTurtle.com
(Bird Flu) H5N1
THREAT or HYPE? |
There are two differing positions on the menace the H5N1 flu virus presents to the world. Unfortunately, one of them may be correct. More information needed here.
Pandemic: A pandemic (from Greek pan all + demos people) is an epidemic (an outbreak of an infectious disease) that spreads worldwide, or at least across a large region.
DOOM & GLOOM CORNER
The doom & gloomers state that all the statistics show that the H5N1 (bird flu) virus currently playing havoc in Asia must, inevitably, become a killer strain of flu. They point out that over 50 to 100 million people died from the previous flu pandemic of 1918-1919. This is a true statistic. Of the four US-approved medicines to combat the flu, two do NOT work against the H5N1 virus. This is also true. The "doomers" claim that we are not prepared for any large scale (H5N1) virus strain and that when the virus hits the US we are all going to be sick - or die. Not very encouraging news.
HEAD IN THE SAND CORNER
The other corner is those who point out that since records were started on this particular strain of virus in 1997 (H5N1), only 103 people (worldwide) have died. (This is based on laboratory-tested fatalities only.) This is also a true and correct statistic. The "in the sand" corner says that the H5N1 virus affects (mostly) birds and transmission to humans is rare (at least 103 times, though). This is a mostly-true statement. If only 103 people have died in third-world countries, it may be that they mishandled some birds and made themselves sick through ignorance or accident. We, as bright and intelligent Rogue Turtle readers, won't make the same mistakes, so it won't happen to us. Pie in the sky thinking.
Both groups use accurate (for now) statistics to back up claims of either "We're Doomed", or "Don't Worry About It". Who do you believe? I know I sure will never believe any group that says anything that emphatically. There has to be another group. Let's call them "The Turtles".
Turtle's group believes that statistics lie, and liars keep statistics. History is full of examples of people, governments or organizations that manipulate statistics to suit a self-interested goal. So, excuse me if I don't get overly excited about any group that claims "scientific insight" that is "irrefutable".
Turtle's Groupies will know that we kill off more people on the American highways PER DAY, than the total number of deaths (world-wide) has since the World Health Organization started watching the H5N1 virus. We need shots to be better drivers.
Turtle's Group will tell you that ALL flu viruses mutate or shift into other forms of influenza strains every year. The REAL threat is that IF THE H5N1 VIRUS MUTATES OR SHIFTS into another strain of flu that is readily infectious to humans. Then we WILL have a pandemic on our hands. The H5N1 virus has over a 50% fatality rate for those cases reported to the World Health Organization. Even this "reporting" may or may not be accurate. Many people who contract this disease may not report it to anyone if, for no other reason, they don't trust their government - about anything. People with only mild cases may not even know they have bird flu, and then get well...without reporting it.
Turtle's group believes that the current strain of avian (bird) flu, while fatal to an unfortunately select few, will not threaten the world in its current form. We believe that while tragic, future cases must be watched carefully and laboratory tested to make sure that the virus hasn't mutated to shifted to another form of virus. The bird flu H5N1 mostly affects birds. So, unless you are Tweety Bird, you don't have a lot to fear from H5N1. In addition, there are NO KNOWN TRANSMISSIONS OF H5N1 FROM PERSON TO PERSON. No healthcare workers have been infected taking care of bird flu patients.
The Killer Pandemic of "Spanish Flu" in 1918-1919 came from the soldiers returning home from WW I in Europe. Nobody knows for sure where it exactly started, it just did. The killer part was that it was a particularly virulent virus, easily transmitted from human to human. It killed millions and millions of people all over the globe. It spared nobody. The current strain of virus, H5N1, isn't the same thing at all.
There are NO REPORTS OF ANY BIRD FLU INFECTING ANYONE EATING AN INFECTED BIRD. Normal cooking and sanitary procedures have kept that in check pretty well. The World Health Organization puts out a pamphlet telling you exactly how to prepare and cook all foods, including fowl. It is nothing new. It just states what we all should already know about food handling in a sanitary kitchen. There is a lot of hand washing and washing of tools and preparation areas. All of it valid and good information. But, nothing new.
WHO also puts out a pamphlet on how health care workers (or families of patients) should take care of patients suspected of having bird flu. This pamphlet is also available here. It is interesting reading. It is published on the WHO web site in several different languages, as is the food preparation pamphlet.
The Turtle Group knows all these things. We also know that unless the MUTATED OR SHIFTED STRAIN IS IDENTIFIED, manufacturing a H5N1 vaccine is a waste of time and money. You cannot stockpile millions of shots for a "pandemic" that won't happen. It's not the H5N1 strain that is a threat to the world...it's what it will later change into that scares us.
Every year when the "Cold and Flu Season" hits us, a new shot is offered, usually to children and the elderly who are encouraged to get the shot by government doctors. Every year the old RT gets a shot, he gets the flu. Guaranteed. I'm told I get a "lowered version" of the current flu strain. But when you feel like death-warmed-over, that's no consolation at all.
The H5N1 virus WILL mutate or shift because that's what all flu virus' do. That is their nature. They can make a turn for the better...or for the worse. It's now a wait and see period to see which way it goes.
The Doom & Gloomers are clamoring all over the President and Congress to get off their collective duffs and come up with a flu shot for the "killer flu". What they don't seem to understand is that there is nothing to be protected from (on a global scale). Sure, someone out there will come up with a vaccine for H5N1, but it may kill as many people as it cures. We just don't know yet. I personally will NOT get a shot for the Avian Flu, I get all the flus that are out there anyway. Why get stuck for no good reason?
We don't believe that we have NOTHING to worry about, either. We do! But not just yet. The real "Killer Flu" virus hasn't shown itself yet. It will have to change into a virus that can easily pass from human to human, not just chicken-to-human (and then stop).
The Turtle Group is Concerned - but Watching. When the human-to-human strain is discovered, that is the time for serious concern. But - not now.
The World Health Organization says:
Symptoms of Avian Influenza in Humans
The reported symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical influenza-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections (conjunctivitis), pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia, and other severe and life-threatening complications.
This list of symptoms is just exactly the same (starting) symptoms as the normal-type flu we all get every year - and the common cold. The difference is that with the H5N1 virus, over 50% of those infected die.
How do you know? Only lab tests can tell what strain you have. And those tests are time-consuming and costly. I don't know if a typical HMO or health care insurance will cover it or not. Ask.
As of RIGHT NOW: There is little or nothing to fear from persons infected directly from handling diseased birds. The human-to-human transmission factor doesn't seem to be present. Shutting down our borders and airports will do no good. Stopping the smuggling of birds, however, does seem a prudent step. We have enough birds here now.
THE REAL THREAT: Given the virulence of the current H5N1 strain, my biggest concern is that there is some sick-o genetic technician out there trying to manipulate the genetic structure of the virus to make it into a form of biological weapon. The problem with education is that you cannot always educate "sane" people. Bio-criminals are educated too. Certain countries with large oil incomes can easily finance a laboratory to do just this sort of thing. Growing viruses is easy, once you know how. It's the delivery system that's the hard part.
Delivery of bio-weapons: Let's see. The easiest way would be to infect certain people who are willing to die for what the cause-of-the day is. Do we know any groups like that? Oh yes, we do. Another way is to "accidentally" infect people overseas who are about to leave for home. The first symptoms of any disease won't show up until after they get home. At the airports, they will feel just fine. No screening (other than blood tests) will show any infection at all. We don't force blood tests without probable cause. Yet.
OK - without a bio-engineered or a naturally occurring mutant version of the H5N1 virus, what do we have? We have the exact situation we are in right now. A virus that is loose in the world - that is killing a few people (but not a lot) - and hasn't come to the United States as of now (May, 2006). All this may change.
We can all hope and pray that the mutated or shifted version of the H5N1 virus goes the way of the Dodo...passes into history with just a brief mention in books published in the year 2106. I'd like to think that's possible. But, with my typical pessimism, I don't think that will happen.
You cannot fight an enemy that doesn't yet exist. When the time comes, be prepared for isolation procedures to keep yourself and your family safe. Other terrible diseases have been stopped just that way. Isolate the area, let the disease take its course and die off, and continue life as best you can when it's over.