Avian Flu On Steroids

Ok, ok, I am trying to be a little less of an alarmist lately, and there have been a lot of positive developments.  For example, it is being reported that there will be enough of the H1N1 vaccine for everyone and that it will be available earlier than expected.  However, and this is the thing that keeps bugging me:  The chief infectious disease pathologist at the CDC, Dr. Sherif Zaki, said the new virus had burrowed into the lungs of the 90 or so people he examined after they died, and they had huge amounts of the virus in their blood.

This in turn caused what is known as acute respiratory distress syndrome — an often fatal development that leaves patients gasping for breath.

“This is almost exactly what we see with avian flu,” Zaki said. “This looks like avian flu on steroids.”

Zaki said 90 percent of the fatalities he looked at had some condition that would predispose them to serious disease. They had a median age of 38 and one victim was a two-month-old infant who died within a day of getting sick.Nearly half — 46 percent — were obese, many had fatty liver disease, 27 percent had heart disease and 22 percent had asthma, he said.

So, in the vein on not being an alarmist, this guy only examined 90 people.  And this still has not surpassed the 30,000 + deaths in the U.S. from seasonal flu.  And no one really knows what will ultimately happen with the life of this H1N1 virus.

Swine Flu Anxiety

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Would Health Workers Reject the Swine Flu Vaccine?

According to a study that polled over 2000 Hong Kong health workers, about half would refuse the swine flu vaccine.  Those who would pass on the vaccine say they are concerned about potential side effects.  So far, the effects have been mild, such as soreness at the injection site.

It is unlikely any rare side effects will pop up until the vaccine is given to millions. That might include things like Guillain-Barre syndrome, a temporary paralyzing disorder, which was seen after the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, and happens fewer than once every 1 million vaccinations.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong surveyed doctors and nurses in public hospitals this year from January to May, asking them if they would get a pandemic vaccine based either on bird flu or swine flu. About 35 percent of health workers were willing to get a bird flu vaccine, versus 48 percent for swine flu.

Experts were surprised so few of Hong Kong’s health workers were willing to be vaccinated, since the city was hit hard during the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Paul Chan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, one of the study authors, thought the results would be similar elsewhere. Fewer than 60 percent of health workers in most countries get vaccinated against regular flu, thought to be a reliable indicator of whether they might get a swine flu shot. In the U.S., about 35 percent of health workers get a regular flu shot, while in Britain, only about 17 percent do.

Annas said health workers were ultimately like everyone else when it comes to getting vaccines. “Like the lay population, they assume they won’t need the shot because they don’t think they will get the flu.”

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German authorities warn of swine flu mutation risk

Germany’s federal agency for infectious diseases said on Tuesday there were signs the H1N1 swine flu virus had started to mutate and warned it could spread in the coming months in a more aggressive form…

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said recently the virus is currently “pretty stable,” but warned it could still change into a more deadly form, perhaps mixing with the H5N1 bird flu virus circulating widely in poultry.”

Oh, man.  If swine flu and bird flu mix into a virus easily spread among people, that would really, really suck.  But, I think a lot people are just saying things to be alarmists.  I’m not ashamed to admit I am one of them.

Current stats: 5,5867 confirmed cases world-wide, and 238 deaths.

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Swine-Bird-Zombie Mix!

What happens if the current strain of swine flu (H1N1) bumps into its friend, the bird flu (H5N1) and they mingle together to create a new virus?

“The current swine flu strain…has sickened more than 2,300 people in 24 countries. While people can catch bird flu from birds, the bird flu…does not easily jump from person to person. It has killed at least 258 people worldwide since it began to ravage poultry stocks in Asia in late 2003.

The WHO reported two new human cases of bird flu on Wednesday. One patient is recovering in Egypt, while another died in Vietnam — a reminder that the H5N1 virus is far from gone.

Experts have long feared that bird flu could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people.

An infectious disease specialist said while flu experts are discussing the scenario, he has yet to see specific evidence causing him to think it will happen.

“Everything with influenza is a huge guessing game because Mother Nature holds all the rules, and we don’t even know what they are, so anything’s possible,” he said. “We don’t have any evidence that this particular reassortment is that much more likely to pick up H5N1 than any other reassortment out there.”

So.  To recap:  Nobody knows what’s going to happen.  There will another deadly pandemic at some point (everyone keeps saying “we are due for one”), because that’s just the way these things work.  But we don’t know where or when or how or what animal!  Also, I think there needs to be more research on potential reassortment of the swine, bird, and zombie flu.

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“Don’t fall prey to pandemic panic”

Mark Siegel, author of “Bird Flu: What You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic” (which I’d like to read soon but I don’t know how much pandemic literature I can stomach) wrote an article that I actually find comforting.  Some things he mentions:

‘After the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency over the weekend and the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to level four on Monday and then to level five Wednesday…it sounded like we were gearing up for nuclear war. In reality, the term “flu pandemic” simply means a new strain is infecting and spreading among people in several areas of the world at the same time. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Today, the nervous general public should be comforted by the time of the year. It’s the end of the flu season – and that goes for any type of flu. These viruses thrive in the low humidity of winter, not summer, and it is very likely that this outbreak will die out as the warmer weather comes.”

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