Booze, Baseball, and another "B"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The looming threat of avian flu...

For those people who have a keen interest in Avian Flu, new research shows that ducks are a major threat to not only spread the virus, but also to mutate it.

If you are not aware, avian flu is influenza which infects birds. There have been some cases where people have contracted avian flu, and the virus usually stayed with those people killing many of them. In some cases, it's thought that some people infected with avian flu may have passed it to other people, but to my knowledge that has not been proven 100% true or false. People who contract Avian flu have approximately a 50% mortality rate (it could be more, it could be less; not all cases are diagnosed as avian flu, and there have been many deaths which may have been caused by avian flu but were not diagnosed as such).

Birds themselves are a major concern to spread the virus. This would seem self-evident, but what is meant here is that, as birds are migratory, and do not always exhibit signs of having contracted the avian flu, when they migrate they can easily spread the virus to other species and flocks of birds. When they come in contact with birds from other areas, and expose them to the virus, these newly infected birds can then take the virus back to where they came, where the virus can then continue to spread further.

The major threat of avian flu (aside from the current problem of potential economic hardship caused by destroying infected, exposed, or possibly exposed birds) is that if the virus was able to be contracted by a person who also had human flu, that the two could mutate in that person, and create a new form of flu. Experts think that may have been what happened in the 1918 "Spanish Flu" pandemic which killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide.

The World Health Organization believes that if a new pandemic was to occur, anywhere between 2 million to 50 million people could die.

Problems in combating: avian flu, human exposure, and a possibly pandemic are many and compounded are by many variables. There are farmers who do not notice infections, farmers who do not want to report infections for fear that all of their birds will be destroyed and they will get little to no compensation. There are problems with governments not reporting cases, governments using poor measures to combat infections (as I mentioned about China a while ago in this blog), and governments being slow to act. Also there are problems from people throughout the world, such as viruses having become more hearty due to people using too many drugs in situations where possibly they could have avoided taking medications for their illness and the pervasion of "antibacterial" soaps and cleaning agents, and more. What this all ads up to is a problem which could become worse than anything we've seen, but also could become nothing more than a nuisance.

Governments are slow to make policy change. Applying the Punctuated Equilibrium Theory of Policy Change to the avian flu case, we would see that there is little positive feedback forcing the governments of the world to enact policy change. Until something major (such as an outbreak of a mutated flu virus) occurs, there will be continued negative feedback (or to put it another way, little feedback, or the status quo). It is probable then, that the problem of avian flu and a possible pandemic will either go unaddressed, or will only have small, half-hearted measures taken to combat it.

I am not the person to make recommendations on what should be done, I will leave that up to the experts on these matters. What I advocate is increased awareness of the problem, and trying to take steps to combat avian influenza before it can become a pandemic similar to the 1918 Spanish Influenza.

Visit the World Health Organization's Avian Influenza page.

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