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November 03, 2005

Bird-Flu, HIV and South AfricaSouth Africa

In this post I would really appreciate feedback for reasons that will become obvious as you read on.

 

If the increasing number of Press Conferences at the WHO is anything to go by, all things health are looking a bit dodgy thesedays. The main reason for the spike in health related stories in the news is the "Bird Flu Virus (H5N1)". The CDC in the US provides a good summary about this virus and why it is such a concern :

 

The H5N1 virus does not usually infect humans. In 1997. However, the first case of spread from a bird to a human was seen during an outbreak of bird flu in poultry in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region. The virus caused severe respiratory illness in 18 people, 6 of whom died. Since that time, there have been other cases of H5N1 infection among humans. Recent human cases of H5N1 infection that have occurred in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam have coincided with large H5N1 outbreaks in poultry. The World Health Organisation also has reported human cases in Indonesia. Most of these cases have occurred from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces; however, it is thought that a few cases of human-to-human spread of H5N1 have occurred.

 

So far, spread of H5N1 virus from person to person has been rare and has not continued beyond one person. However, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that the H5N1 virus one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. Because these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immune protection against them in the human population. If the H5N1 virus were able to infect people and spread easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease) could begin. No one can predict when a pandemic might occur. However, experts from around the world are watching the H5N1 situation in Asia very closely and are preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person.

 

Yeah okay, but why should this worry us? Well :

 

An influenza pandemic is a global outbreak of disease that occurs when a new influenza A virus appears or “emerges” in the human population, causes serious illness, and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide. Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks or “epidemics” of influenza. Seasonal outbreaks are caused by subtypes of influenza viruses that already circulate among people, whereas pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes, by subtypes that have never circulated among people, or by subtypes that have not circulated among people for a long time. Past influenza pandemics have led to high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss.

 

Some recent historical comparisons :

 

 

Currently the H5N1 strain has a mortality rate of over 50%. However, what makes it so deadly for Southern Africa is our high rate of HIV/Aids infection :

 

"Many of the problems faced by people infected with HIV results from the failure of the immune system to protect them from certain opportunistic infections"  

 

If this virus did evolve into an easily transmittable virus it could prove to be the "Grand Slam" of opportunistic infections. The majority of the people who have succumbed to the virus so far have been healthy - imagine the effect on a person with an already weakened immune system?  

 

So what do you all think, do we in SA need to worry more than other countries this thing makes its final evolutionary step? 

 

Posted by dymaxion at November 3, 2005 12:43 PM

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