Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bird Flu Pandemic Coming?

You will hear it called a bunch of different things, but the media, when it has bothered touching on it at all so far, will call it the Avian Flu (H5N1), or "Bird Flu" more likely. It is a strain of the flu virus that has taken out large numbers of birds overseas, and is scaring the pants off a number of experts. Though it has shown to jump from birds to humans, it has not done so in large numbers, but there is already speculation in the medical community that this may indeed happen soon. Up to 100 people may already have died in Asia, and speculation by reliable parties is that an outbreak could reach pandemic proportions, killing as many as 150 million worldwide if not attacked properly. The anti-viral treatment Tamiflu is shown to be effective against it, but is in seriously short supply, and the Swiss company holding the patent, pharmaceutical giant Roche, has not shown the ability or willingness thus far to pick up production levels. Can you hear them now: "Send us more M-O-N-E-Y." President Bush has even considered the idea that we may need to institute quarantines here in the U.S. should a breakout reach the levels possible. Stay tuned folks, and stay away from the birds. This makes Hitchcock's little squawkers look downright tame.

2 comments:

D. Maria said...

I’ve been reading about the possibility of an avian bird flu pandemic for over a year. IMO The scariest part is that we have NO natural immunities to fight it off! Prayerfully, we won’t have an outbreak this year…we’re definitely not ready for it.

I watched a special on Prime Time Live a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty informative. The link is: http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/Investigation/story?id=1130392&page=1 Even though the entire article is worth reading here’s a snippet as it applies to Tamiflu:

While there is no vaccine to stop the flu, there is one medicine to treat it. Called Tamiflu, it is made by the Roche pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. Roche has been selling Tamiflu for years. Only recently, however, did scientists learn of its potential to work against the killer flu, H5N1. That has since created a huge demand and a critical shortage. "All of the wealthiest countries in the world are trying to purchase stockpiles of Tamiflu," says Garrett. "Our current stockpile is around 2.5 million courses of treatment." According to Leavitt, that is a long way from the country's ideal stockpile. "Our objective is to have 20 million doses of Tamiflu or enough for 20 million people," he says. He later admitted that only 2 million are currently on hand, but asserted that no other country is in a better position. Officials in Australia, however, have 3.5 million courses of treatment, and in Great Britain, officials say they have ordered enough to cover a quarter of their population. "I think at the moment, with 2.5 million doses, you are pretty vulnerable," warns Professor John Oxford of the Royal London Hospital. "The lack of advanced planning up until the moment in the United States, in the sense of not having a huge stockpile I think your citizens deserve, has surprised me and has dismayed me," he admits. 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. "The way we are approaching the discussions with governments is that we are operating on a first-come, first-serve basis," says Dr. David Reddy, head of the pandemic task force at Roche. "Do we wish we had ordered it sooner and more of it? I suspect one could say yes," admits Leavitt. "Are we moving rapidly to assure that we have it? The answer is also yes." When asked why the United States did not place its orders for Tamiflu sooner, Leavitt replied, "I can't answer that. I don't know the answer to that." Even leading Republicans in Congress say the Bush administration has not handled the planning for a possible flu epidemic well. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says the current Tamiflu stockpile of 2 million could spell disaster. "That's totally inadequate. Totally inadequate today," says Frist, who is also a physician. "The Tamiflu is what people would go after. It's what you're going to ask for, I'm going to ask for, immediately." Leavitt says deciding who gets the 2.5 million doses of Tamiflu currently on hand in the United States is part of the federal government's response plan. However, he also admits that thought has motivated the government to move rapidly in securing more doses of the medicine. "It isn't going to happen tomorrow, but if it happened the day after that, we would not be in as good as a position as we will be in six months," he says. However, in the end, even the country's top health officials concede that a killer flu epidemic this winter would make the scenes of Katrina pale in comparison. "You know, I was down in New Orleans in that crowded airport now a couple weeks ago," Frist says. "And this could be not just equal to that, but many multiple times that. Hundreds of people laid out, all dying, because there was no therapy. And a lot of people don't realize for this avian flu virus, there will be very little effective therapy available early on."

Matt Veasey said...

Pa. Experts Help NJ Monitor Threat of Bird Flu
by KYW's Tony Romeo
(kywnewsradio.com)



Pennsylvania and New Jersey have announced a cooperative effort to watch for avian influenza at live bird markets in the Garden State.

The two states are working together because Pennsylvania is the largest supplier of poultry for New Jersey’s live bird markets.

Pennsylvania state veterinarian Paul Knepley says it’s just one part of an aggressive effort by Pennsylvania:


“We test over 240,000 samples for avian influenza per year. The next closest state to us is Minnesota. They only test 75,000. So we’re more than twice the next nearest state in terms of how aggressively we surveil.”


Knepley says the effort is designed to prevent even garden-variety strains of bird flu, not dangerous to humans, from emerging and mutating into a highly pathogenic strain.

But when it comes to protecting human health, Knepley points out that the scenario of greater concern is that in Asia or eastern Europe, the strain of bird flu already deadly to humans will mutate to become easily contagious from person to person.