Monday, June 06, 2005

H5N1 - forget about SARS

Not sure if many of you care but a catastrophic viral outbreak could be on its way and believe me - this will make SARS look like a summer flu.

You might have heard some reports about a bunch of birds dying because of a bird flu epidemic. What's feared is a strain of this virus (Avian Influenza) known as H5N1 which has potential to go through an antigenic shift (it combines with a strain of human influenza virus) and become well transmissible among humans. There has already been a few human deaths and maybe even cases where the virus has jumped from a person to person. The mortality rates have been dropping which is NOT a good thing. It simply means that the virus is evolving (adapting as a result of Natural Selection) and becoming more comfortable in a human body. This leads to a growing number of infections.

Now I want you to pay attention to the picture below which has been taken from Qinghai, China. The Chinese government wishes the whole thing to remain behind closed doors. According to this news article eight Chinese people, who have been reporting about the outbreak among birds in Qinghai, have been arrested since the pictures (three alltogether) were published:

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You can clearly see how none of the birds are flying and none looks too happy. It has been estimated that the picture shows hundreds of dead or dying birds. Some of these massive outbreaks among bird populations have been officially reported by Chinese officials but it seems that they still want to withold a lot of vital information (just like they did with SARS in the beginning).

Tens of millions of chickens, ducks and geese have been slaughtered during the past few months in the most infected areas such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and China. Some WHO officials say that it's only a matter of time before it hits the human population and leads to a global pandemic (remember Spanish Flu from 1918 which killed 25-50 million people and infected nearly 20% of the world's population?).

So how about initiating a global vaccination program? Not likely. Influenza viruses constantly evolve and mutate - meaning you'd have to manufacture (which takes months) a new vaccine for every subtype.

But no worries about this turning out to be an apocalyptic superfly like in Stephen King's "The Stand". A virus with a mortality rate of nearly 100% and which kills fast is too efficient - it'd burn away because of its virulence. So - enjoy your summer!



Anonymous LAW said...

i thought you know shit about viruses Mikko. But wrong. You described well the virus mixing thingy etc. I care for such details becasue I am interested in that kind of stuff.

June 06, 2005 7:38 PM  
Blogger Mikko Sandt said...

Yeah me too - I read quite a lot about bugs;)

June 13, 2005 8:07 PM  

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