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August 29, 2005

Avian Flu Fears Spread.

I have not been putting much stock into the fears of a bird flu pandemic, but it seems as if governments and media have. We also may have an indication of how serious the British government takes the threat by the actions of its officials:MEMBERS of Britain’s elite have been selected as

priority cases to receive scarce pills and vaccinations at the

taxpayers’ expense if the country is hit by a deadly bird flu outbreak.

Workers at the BBC and prominent politicians — such as cabinet ministers — would be offered protection from the virus.

NI_MPU('middle');Ken

Livingstone, the London mayor, has already spent £1m to make sure his

personal office and employees have their own emergency supplies of

100,000 antiviral tablets.

If there is an avian flu pandemic in the coming months there

would be enough drugs to protect less than 2% of the British population

for a week.This is especially rancorous for me for obvious reasons, and as I tend toward skepticism in matters of doomsday predictions, I also tend to get overly indignant when government officials demonstrate a craven me-first attitude.

The virus is no said to be spreading from Asia into Russia. From there, fears are that migratory birds would bring the deadly strain over the Urals and into Western Russia and then to the Balkans, which is seen as a possible gateway to central Europe:Lakes and rivers along the Black Sea coast ranging from Ukraine to

northern Turkey attract millions of birds each winter from an area

stretching from northern Russia to Scandinavia. Europe's largest

wetlands, Romania's Danube delta, and lakes in northern Bulgaria, are

popular among flocks of red-breasted geese from Siberia as well as

white-fronted geese from Scandinavia, Poland, and Germany.

"There is a risk of spreading the deadly strain of flu to local

wildlife if any of them is infected," said Boris Barov, head of

Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds. Jutzi said countries in southeast Europe may lack the capacity to detect and deal with a widespread outbreak.As it stands now, the fear is that the H5N1 strain would mingle with more standard flu strains and mutate into a sort of super-flu that would spread wider and faster from wild birds to farm poultry:The present European

Commission directive designed to curtail the threat of bird flu is

concerned only with 'high pathogenic' strains, but there are growing

concerns that these can originate from 'low pathogenic' strains which

can be transmitted to poultry from wild birds.

On

Friday, the authorities in Finland detected a case of bird flu in the

north of the country which is thought to be a low pathogenic strain.

The discovery has added to concerns over the speed with which bird flu

is edging towards western Europe.Now, no human has been infected in Russia yet, and the epidemic there seems to have stabilized. However, the demonstrated failure with regards to BSE some years back should give everyone pause.

Here's a good explanation why the avian flu is suddenly getting attention:The H5N1 strain is particularly dangerous because

it mutates very rapidly and can mix with genes from other viruses thus

allowing it to spread to other species. In addition it is highly

pathogenic and can cause severe disease outbreaks.

With the infection spreading in birds there's an increased risk for

direct infection of humans, too. And if more people become infected, it

also becomes more likely that humans, if infected with human and bird

flu strains at the same time, could serve as the "mixing vessel" for

the emergence of a novel strain that could easily be transmitted from

person to person. Such an event would mark the start of an influenza

pandemic.Efforts continue in the US to quarantine against H5N1 here.

The government plans to more than triple the number of

quarantine stations at airports around the country and hire scores of

health officers as part of a broad plan to try to stop deadly

infectious diseases from entering the United States.

Ten

new stations, at airports stretching from Alaska to Puerto Rico, are

already open or nearing completion, and about 50 new health officers

are undergoing training. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

plans to build an additional seven stations as soon as it can get the

money. Eight stations that have existed for years are gaining staff, so

that when the plan is complete, the country will be blanketed by a

network of 25 centers designed as a first-line of defense against a

global disease pandemic.Apart from the personal, some economists are claiming that a pandemic that rises to the predictions could cause a world-wide depression:

In a first-of-its-kind report on the financial impact of a possible pandemic,

BMO Nesbitt Burns researchers in Canada warned that an outbreak could devastate

the airline and hospitality industries, trigger mass foreclosures and

bankruptcies, decimate insurance companies, and disrupt food chains as people

switched from animal to vegetable diets.Losses would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.Before we start building bunkers, buying gold and shotguns, it should be noted that most of this is hypothesis mixed with a tinge of paranoia. There is an old adage that economists have reliably predicted ten of the last eight recessions. Also, it has become a habit to over play threats to sell newspapers and bilk the citizenry out of more tax dollars by hyping danger. Maybe a way to play this is to invest in Whole Foods Market or any number of organic, vegetarian food producers.

Still, this could happen, although I would wager that the reality will be somewhere in between a blip and a global disaster. On which side of center we land will be the subject of more coverage before long.

Some links and info come from Maggie (who is canning tomatoes and wearing a gas mask 24/7) and the Avian Flu blog.

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Posted by dymaxion at August 29, 2005 02:04 PM

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