Monday, November 20, 2006


The threat of a worldwide bird flu pandemic, large enough to kill more than 100 million people and cost the world economy trillions of dollars, is probably the most over-hyped non-event of the past year.

Hopefully, we haven't hyped the threat beyond what you would find in most mainstream newspapers. The aim of this blog was to not only track the spread of the virus, but to follow the reportage of the events in the media.

While the threat of a worldwide bird flu pandemic remains, two news reports out of Australia now claim the threat has been somewhat diminished, if not thoroughly downgraded.

From :

A bird flu pandemic may have already been averted by large-scale chicken culls and containment of infection, Australia's chief medical officer John Horvath says.

The bird flu virus H5N1, which has spread from chickens to humans in Asia and killed about 200 people, is seen as the biggest current pandemic threat. But while it has three of the four elements needed to cause a pandemic - it can infect humans, cause severe disease and there is little immunity to it - it apparently cannot transmit efficiently from human to human.

"It may be that the world has already averted an influenza pandemic by actions it has taken in response to H5N1, such as extensive culling of poultry and isolation of infected humans," Prof Horvath wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.

"Yet all preparations may seem insufficient if the world comes face to face with a rapidly spreading novel (influenza) virus like the one that emerged in 1918."

The world had changed since previous pandemics, he warned, with faster and cheaper international travel, and more densely populated countries potentially making it easier for disease to spread.

"Economies are more interdependent and many businesses, including medical practices, operate on a 'just in time' basis for delivery of essential supplies."

Nonetheless, governments and communities were better prepared than ever, Prof Horvath said.

Writing in the same federal government sponsored report, leading Melbourne immunologist Peter Doherty said some kind of pandemic outbreak was a certainty in the future, but...
...the research community was divided over whether the H5N1 virus would be the one to spread rapidly....
Austalia has spent between $600 and $750 million on bird flu preparedness, including the stockpiling of millions of doses of untested vaccine, and funding education and culling programs in South East Asia, particularly in Indonesia.

From the ABC's 'PM' :
Australia's Chief Medical Officer says the threat of a pandemic may have passed, but Professor John Horvath says millions of dollars spent preparing for bird flu haven't been wasted, because Australia is now ready for other disease outbreaks.
Hovarth tells 'PM' that is possible the threat of a bird flu pandemic has passed, but it remains impossible to confirm.
"There's a lot of speculation that with this much virus around, if this is the bug that was going to be the pandemic it would've been. Other people are of the view that because there is so much of it around it just hasn't had the right opportunity to change."
Retired molecular biologist, Graham Laver, believes the Australian government has failed to adequately prepare for flu threats across Australia, including pandemic bird flu.
"They have done nothing at all to do anything about it except to promote the vaccine, which is not all that effective...."
More than three thousand Australians die from seasonal flu viruses each year.

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