Bird Flu Update

Ken AshfordAvian/Swine FluLeave a Comment

"Whatever happened to the bird flu?" my mother asked me when I was up for Christmas. "Wasn’t that supposed to be the next big thing to kill us all?"

I pondered the question and bluffed an answer, laced with cynicism: "Oh, it’s still around.  In fact, it’s worse.  You don’t hear about it on the news because it’s not as much of a ‘grabber’ when compared to some missing blond teenager, or the latest antics of Tom Cruise."

Turns out I was right:

Bird flu killed three members of a family in Egypt, pushing the number of fatalities worldwide this year to 79, more than reported in the previous three years combined.


The H5N1 virus is known to have infected 261 people in 10 countries in the past three years, killing 157 of them, WHO said yesterday. Last year, 42 fatalities were confirmed, after 32 in 2004 and four in 2003. Six of every 10 reported cases have been fatal and a majority of cases has occurred among children and young adults.

The article goes on to explain that while fatalities have gone up, actual infections have gone down recently:

Since July, 26 human cases have been reported in four countries, compared with 88 infections in eight countries in the first half of the year.

But this dropoff in the last half of 2006 is not necessarily something to celebrate.  There were also similar dropoffs in the last halves of 2005 and 2004:

A few slow months in cases doesn’t mean that the threat of pandemic is at an end, said Peter Sandman, a risk communication specialist in Princeton, New Jersey.

"When you install a smoke alarm in your house and then go a year without a fire, that doesn’t mean you were foolish to install a smoke alarm,” said Sandman, who consults to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on pandemic communication. "It means it’s time to change the batteries.”

Now, some may wonder: "Wait a second…. we’re only talking about 261 infections in the past three years?  This isn’t an epidemic that I sholud worry about!"

Well, perhaps.  But just because we didn’t have a category 5 hurricane this year doesn’t mean we’re never going to see another Katrina.  And, as DemFromCT explains, even the pandemic influenza of 1918 started off as a few fatalities per year.

An ounce of prevention and all that….