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February 16, 2006

WHO's in charge here?

Some kind of debate—probably not a happy one—seems to be going on between WHO and Dr. David Nabarro. It appears to have started a few days ago when Nabarro warned the world that bird flu virus is only two mutations away from a more deadly form.

The bird flu virus is only two mutations away from a form that can spread easily among people, a UN official said in an interview published in Portugal on Saturday.

"Only two mutations are needed for it to become easily transmissible among humans," thus sparking a pandemic in which millions of people could die, David Nabarro, the world body's coordinator on avian influenza, told Portuguese newspaper Expresso.

"I wake up every morning thinking that today could be the day that I will see a report about a strange case of bird flu among humans," he said.

The UN official added that he has told governments around the world to prepare for the arrival of a human to human strain of thevirus "as if this will happen tomorrow."

o has cracked a two by four over our collective heads before. Sometimes it seems like the only way he can get our attention. When WHO seconded him to be the UN's avian-flu boss, Nabarro started by saying a pandemic could cost as many as 350 million lives. WHO backed away from that figure very quickly.

This afternoon a reader tipped me off to a story in the Vancouver Sun—something about "WHO in the dark on bird flu." But it's a subscription site, and I'm not a subscriber (don't get me going about the quality of our local newspapers).

I picked up a paper and found a brief story in the first section with "WHO in the dark on bird flu" as the headline. It said WHO is planning to issue an "update" saying that it's impossible to predict how close H5N1 is to becoming a really deadly H2H virus.

"There's no way of knowing," the story quotes Michael Perdue as saying. "There's no way to make that prediction."

Since Perdue is working with WHO's global influenza program, that sounds to me like a careful, official repudiation of Nabarro's "two mutations" comment. And that in turn makes me think that WHO's campaign against the flu is being waged both externally and internally.

WHO is not the only one in the dark about bird flu.

Posted by dymaxion at February 16, 2006 02:42 PM

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