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Whatever Happened To The Avian Flu Pandemic?

What happened to the avian flu pandemic? A couple of winters ago, the news media were full of dire warnings about the bird flu. This super-flu was supposed just around the corner, waiting to pounce on an unprepared world and wipe out thousands or maybe millions, like historical influenza plagues.

A normal flu shot would not stop it. Doctors were not even sure what would stop the avian flu. Many uneasy citizens learned new words like “pandemic” and “H5N1.” Did the bird influenza epidemic just suddenly go away?

The short answer is no. At the time this bird-killing virus came to global attention, it was very difficult for the H5N1 cells to infect humans. The regular yearly flu seems to mutate or change strains every year. That is why the flu shots are different each year, and usually contain protection against more than one influenza strain. Avian flu was (and still is) deadly to the bird populations that it infects. However, it was (and still is) very difficult for humans to become infected.

Scientists and doctors were worried that the H5N1 strain would also mutate into a more contagious form. They were concerned that the new viral strain would be able to travel between species from birds to humans. Furthermore, if such a new flu was born, the worry was that it would be contagious between humans, with no birds needed for infection. With the world’s collective immune system unready to handle this deadly unknown disease, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other health organizations feared a super flu epidemic, called a pandemic.

The avian flu is still infecting the wild fowl populations of many countries, especially Southeast Asia. Both domestic fowl, such as chicken and turkeys, and wild bird populations are continually monitored for the disease, to chart its progress. Currently, humans are most at risk that live in countries with infected birds and poultry, and handle infected birds regularly.

According to the CDC website, transmission of bird flu infections from person to person is very rare. When they have happened, they have been very limited in number, and the contagion was not sustained. In 2007, WHO counted 88 laboratory-confirmed human cases of Avian Influenza A. Of those 88 cases, 59 of the people died, which is a 67% mortality rate. Indonesia and Egypt had the highest numbers of confirmed human avian flu infections, at 55 and 18 cases, respectively.

A laboratory test is required to diagnose the H5N1 infection, as it cannot be detected by symptoms alone. The human species has little natural immunity to the H5N1 viral infection. However, efforts to create a vaccine that could be administered prior to a disease outbreak are continuing. However, there is no human vaccine available at this time.

The bad news is that the avian influenza is still out there. The good news is that the virus has not mutated into a form that can travel from person to person, and vaccine research is ongoing. It is hoped that an effective vaccine can be developed that will prevent a worldwide avian flu pandemic.

Copyright 2008 by Doug Smith. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Unauthorized Duplication Prohibited.

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