I'm starting to get a little annoyed at people spouting off as if they were experts, either claiming that it's a non-threat ("oh, you can't even get it from birds, you have to drink bird's blood to get it" as someone posted today) and Bush administration propaganda, or conversely, it's going to end the world as we know it. So I've sat down for SEVERAL hours yesterday, read the information from credible sources, and came up with some actual facts. I'm not an expert, but I'm smart, and I can read, and I can evaluate the credibility of the source. First, let me get my politics clear. I think Bush is inept, clueless, and a pale shadow of his Dad. And he's prone to crying wolf as a distraction, whenever people start criticizing his administration. "Oooh! Oooh! The terrorist level is orange today!" Only works so long. But in this case, he's actually right. Ironically. I suspect he's solely looking for a distraction, and bird flu works nicely because people tend to wig out over disease -- but really and truthfully, this is something that deserves the kind of publicity it's getting. Pandemic flu should have gotten this attention years ago, with priority over some of the other diseases we've wigged out on. Pandemic flu has happened before. Three times this century, but many times before that. It strikes roughly every 30 years, and when it does, it's not like the regular flu. Pandemic flu is caused when a novel flu virus, to whom humanity has little or no immunity, starts spreading person to person. Because flu is wildly contagious, and under the right conditions can persist in the environment for months, can spread on the wind for brief periods of time (not for miles), and only takes a very small amount of virus to cause infection, because people start shedding virus before they show symptoms, and because it can have a relatively long incubation period (up to ten days, though 2-3 is more common) it is easy to spread. If the "new" flu is also particularly deadly -- as has happened in the past -- then mass deaths have occurred. We've had three outbreaks of pandemic flu in the past. In 1918, a large number of people died. Estimates vary, but the best figures I've seen on a variety of sites are that one third of the world's population caught it, and 2% died. And this caused mass panic, in a population fairly used to deadly infectious diseases of assorted types. (Smallpox and measles and polio and etc. were still in circulation.) Estimates of deaths in the US range up to 500,000(1). The US population at the time was 106 million(2), in 1920. Kindof a substantial chunk of the country kicked off, any way you look at it, no? Sources: (1)CDC Website, http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/gen-info/pandemics.htm (2)Statistical Abstract of the United States, The Reference Press, 1995 (book) I've heard people claim that they didn't understand medicine the way we do now, in 1918. They understood basic hygiene and basic treatment for flu hasn't changed in almost a century. Electrolytes, aspirin, cough syrup, keep the patient comfortable, etc. They had all that then. Codeine was over the counter. What is different is that we can treat more severe symptoms with antiobiotics, antivirals, steroids, ventilators, IV fluids, etc. etc. etc. If 1/3rd of the country gets sick -- do you really think all those things will be available? We'll be treating our kids, our parents, our grandparents, in our own homes, with the same stuff that our great-grandparents would have used. We've had two other pandemics in the last century -- (1)1957-58 (70,000 deaths in the US) and (1)1968-69 (35,000 deaths). All three of these pandemics were caused by avian viruses. H1N1 caused the 1918-1918 epidemic, H2N2 caused the 1957-58 epidemic and H3N2 caused the 1968-69 epidemic. None of these viruses, when caught directly from birds, cause severe disease normally. They mutated so they could spread person to person and in doing so, became more deadly. (To be perfectly accurate, H1N1 underwent an antigen shift -- it mutated in its avian form and jumped species. H2N2 and H3N2 recombined with human flu, and took on enough human flu genetics to start spreading among people.) It's pretty much safe to assume that if something has happened before, it WILL HAPPEN AGAIN. Influenza has mutated MANY times and caused MANY pandemics. Not just the three in the last century. WE WILL FACE ANOTHER INFLUENZA PANDEMIC. Estimates on what will happen when the next pandemic hits are all over the board. Bottom line is: Millions sick, hospitals overwhelmed, mass panic. C'mon, this nation flips out over West Nile Virus, which killed what, a few hundred people in this country? The gubberment is making all kinds of noises about vaccines and stockpiling drugs, but we don't have the stockpiles of drugs or the vaccines yet. Nice idea, if they follow through on it, outstanding, but -- well, I'm not holding my breath with this administration. And we could get hit before they have their stockpiles ready. Now, there's been a lot of fuss about a specific virus, and that is H5N1. And it's real and it's a genuine concern. H5N1, in its present state, is kinda scary for those of us who have poultry. Here's what we know so far: It's infected a few hundred people worldwide. Infection has been seen, multiple times, in people who are NOT "living with poultry in their beds" as some have suggested. And, in fact, people who live that close to poultry seem to have some resistance. They're not sure why, but past exposure to milder viruses is speculated. It is typically children (perhaps no prior exposure), visitors -- the relative who visists from the city, say, and helps out with cleaning a coop -- or people who buy poultry, take it home, and butcher it. One case that comes to mind was a guy who stole a chicken from a neighbor's yard, killed it and ate it and got the flu. There was a woman visiting from the city who helped clean a coop who got the flu. Etc. It's spreading. Rapidly. Waterfowl are inapparent carriers. Waterfowl migrate. It's spread from Asia to Europe. It's in Russia. Africa is probably next. The US will be hit too, if not this year, then next. H5 flu HAS BEEN FOUND IN CANADA this week but they don't know which strain yet and the canadian government is claiming it's not "likely" to be H5N1 because the ducks it's been found in are "healthy." Well, guess what -- ducks can carry the virus without symptoms. And there were a bunch of dead ducks there last year. They were supposed to release the final test results telling which virus the ducks had this week, and they didn't. It could be H5N2 (which occurs in north america naturally and is endemic) ... or maybe not. We'll find out soon enough, I guess. If it is H5N1, those of us who keep poultry anywhere in North America will very quickly be facing this. Because, guess what, it's fall, and what do ducks do in the fall ...? H5N1 is a concern because it is VERY deadly when caught by people. There have been a few hundred cases reported (probably more unreported, my speculation). The actual figures of confirmed cases vs. deaths work out to, overall, around 50% mortality rate among all cases. But if you break it down by age, NINETY PERCENT of children under the age of 15 who catch this thing die. Figures like that are enough to make my stomach work itself into knots over the thought of keeping poultry if H5N1 crops up geographically close to me. And that mortality rate is what wigs even sane and sober scientists out. We have a virus -- not spreading among people yet -- that's killing 50% of the people who DO get it and almost all the kids. And it's an influenza virus. And influenza viruses have a long and established history of mutating so that they spread among people. The concern -- and it is a real and genuine concern -- is that this virus WILL mutate so that it starts spreading. The probability of it doing so is HIGH. The ability to contain it is low once it does, for reasons stated above -- highly contagious, persistant in the environment, and a relatively long incubation period during which people are contagious before it strikes. If this thing does mutate -- or when (not if) we get hit by another influenza pandemic like 1918 -- the effect on the world will be catastrophic. I don't buy that it will be a LONG term effect. We aren't going to go back to the stone age. There are too many people who DO have the skills and the knowledge base to put the world together again after pandemic. But short term?