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Avian Flu Could Kill a Billion


“We must remain on the offensive against new threats to public health, such as the Avian influenza,” US President George W. Bush said in his speech to world leaders at the United Nations Summit in New York. “If left unchallenged, the virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century.”

“If we had a significant worldwide epidemic of this particular avian flu, the H5N1 virus, and it hit the United States and the world, because it would be everywhere at once, I think we would see outcomes that would be virtually impossible to imagine,” warns Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Avian flu could cause a billion humans to die globally, according to ABC News. That is why this week the Bush administration set in motion stockpiling $100 million worth of medicines. However, the vaccine is still in the experimental stage.

“Right now in human beings, it kills 55 percent of the people it infects,” says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That makes it the most lethal flu we know of that has ever been on planet Earth affecting human beings.”

British officials are now spying out extra morgue square footage to those who would die because of the H5N1 virus. This virus type is brand new to the human race.

The Foreign Affairs publication looks upon this threat as “the coming global epidemic, a pandemic.”

Mr. Bush highlighted his personal concern in his address at the news conference this week. He cautioned that he did not mean to be overly alarming; but the message given was that America may have an extremely serious problem in the near future — a health problem that could get way out of control.

It started in Asia. Birds like geese, swans and ducks are the culprits. The birds die of a pneumonia. Their lungs are found to be filled with fluid and blood, according to veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society, William Karesh.

The disease goes from wild birds, then to chickens, then to people. “We start at a market somewhere in Guangdong Province in China. And it’s packed with cages, and you’ll have chickens, and you’ll have ducks. You might have some other animals -- cats, dogs, turtles, snakes -- and they’re all stacked in cages, and they’re all spreading their germs to each other,” Karesh explains.

That means that officials must see through the destruction of scores of chickens — thousands at a time. The chance is that the disease can be halted before it reaches mortals. The next stage, after going from lower animals to humans, is human to human.

What concerns government officials worldwide is that many do not understand the magnitude of the problem. Newscasters are reluctant to hammer away constantly on the issue. Even politicians do not want to appear extremely panicky about avian flu. And therefore, nations go on their ways as if all is normal, no threat in sight, while huge populations remain uneducated about what could happen this winter.

Add to this the fact that the medicines are not equipped at present to combat the pandemic. Widespread disease occurrences would be practically impossible to ward off. That would mean that alarming numbers of humans would die without the hoped-for vaccine.

Scientists are working night and day at present in search of virus solutions before the plague hits.

The disease strikes with a cold-type “runny nose.” Then there is the sore throat. The lungs are attacked next as that tissue suffers from an extreme pneumonia. As of this date, 57 confirmed human deaths, and another suspected one last week in Indonesia, are recorded.

Thus far, infections have come from birds. But once the virus leaps from birds to human to human, then the pandemic sets loose. That would over-ditto the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918.

The avian flu could travel around the planet in a very short time. That is due to international air travel.

People would carry the virus on their hands. Therefore, shaking hands could spread the disease. Door handles and so forth could carry the virus. Whatever is touched could be contaminated.

Such widespread sickness could force blocking off entire geographies so that persons, quarantined, could not go out while others could not go in. Airports, interstates, subways, schools, shopping malls could end up blocked off to entrancing and exiting. Persons could be corralled with strangers who could be disease carriers.

The frightening prospects are numberless: no place to bury the dead. No one to bury them. Not enough caskets. No persons to provide decent burial rites. Orphans. Elderly struck down with no medical assistance. Hospitals shut down or quarantined.

Further, when the avian flu first hits, persons may think it to be the “old-fashioned flu.” Therefore, it could spread quickly with persons not realizing the enormity of the danger. As a major killer disease, it would be subtle, indirect and especially cunning at its entry levels.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says: “We would do all we could to quarantine. It’s not a happy thought. It’s something that keeps the president of the United States awake. It keeps me awake.” Leavitt says that he wishes there were more time left to perfect a solution.

ABC News’ “Primetime” broadcasts that a couple hundred thousand in the United States could be killed by the avian flu in “a few months.” Even that number is regarded as low.

Everyone will be asking for the vaccine. But it won’t be available. When the vaccine finally is up and running, the supply will not be sufficient.

Tamiflu by Roche pharmaceutical firm in Switzerland is on to a vaccine. It’s been marketed for flu. It may work against H5N1. Therefore, every aware nation has been requesting Tamiflu in stockpiles. Only the rich countries, however, can get it. Even then, the supply is not up to what would be the demand.

Only 2 million doses are available for the US now.

“Faced with worldwide demand, the Roche company, which produces Tamiflu, has organized a first-come, first-served waiting list. The United States is nowhere near the top,” ABC News reports.

If persons think the hurricane disasters of Katrina and Rita were devastating, such would prove to be pigmy-sized in comparison to a pandemic of avian flu.

“A lot of people don’t realize that for this avian flu virus, there will be very little effective therapy available early on,” said US Congressman Bill Frist.

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