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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bird Flu Flies In Political Circles

For those who are happily ignoring the subject, H5N1 has now been confirmed in Italy and Greece. Slovenia has confirmed H5, and has sent samples to the Weybridge lab in the UK. H5N1 seems to be in both north and south Iraq, no surprise there. H5N1 is going to show up in wetlands everywhere. Bird flu is of course in all of central Asia.

Supposedly H5 was confirmed in falcons in Saudi Arabia. There have been multiple reports of die-offs in Yemen. It looks to be in at least three countries in Africa (Chad, Mali and Nigeria). It soon will be all over Africa and Europe, if it isn't already. In the next two - six months, the infection will spread in wild birds and become more apparent.

Whether a country reports H5N1 or not has more to do with politics and economics than whether birds in that country are dying from H5N1. This will not change.

There is no possibility of containing this, because a very virulent strain of H5N1 is being spread in the wild bird population. If H5N1 is not already in NA it soon will be. I think it is already in NA, but hasn't made it to South America yet. When it does make it to SA, havoc will ensue after two or three months, because there are plenty of rural populations which raise livestock and domestic fowl. There are some in North America, too! Biosecurity measures at most large poultry raising operations in NA are already in place, but many smaller production operations will be hit hard. All backyard or free-range poultry will be infected eventually. The commercial distribution of such poultry or eggs from such poultry in the US should be made illegal, but for political reasons this will not be done.

H5N1 infects pigeons, crows and starlings. It's time to poison the birds in the big cities to limit human exposure. You can bet the PETA types will fight viciously against this. The bird defenders are still insisting that H5N1 is not being spread by migrating birds, flying in the face of all evidence. WHO was pushing this doctrine for quite a while too, but has recently conceded to reality.

Recent reports from Turkey, possibly south Iraq and definitely Indonesia show an increasing pattern of infections in clusters. At the very minimum, this indicates that the virus has become far, far more efficient at infecting mammals. Quite a few of the clusters showed a series of delayed onset dates, so that onset of illness dates varied by 4 to 10 days, and in at least one cluster in Indonesia this appeared to have happened twice. If the viral level in the environment were so high as to keep infecting people three weeks after all the birds were dead, more than just one family would be getting ill and dying. A combination of very sporadic infection combined with this type of onset pattern means that inefficient human to human transmission must be occurring. This was confirmed in Turkey, which actually did do enough testing to detect sub-clinical infections.

The implications of all this are staggering. I guess for a while this blog will mainly be concentrated on trying to explain what will probably happen and what, if anything, you can do about it, because the press appears unwilling or unable to cover this story. One inevitable result of all this will be the rumor in the ME that the US spread this virus as a weapon. That rumor already was circulating in Russia after the first large poultry-processing and raising plants were shut down or embargoed due to H5N1. They had instituted biosecurity measures but those measures were not effective against H5N1.

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