The flu; to many people, the flu is just a fever and chills they get in the winter, with maybe an upset stomach thrown in for good measure. The flu's common reputation belies its true nature as a deadly killer that could become even more deadly at the drop of a hat. Every year in the United States alone, about 40,000 - 60,000 people perish from this disease. Worldwide, the true total is unknown, but some estimates range as high as 1.5 million deaths per year.
One of the more worrisome actors waiting in the wings of the world stage right now is an outbreak of a special strain of the Influenza virus known as the "Bird Flu".The bird flu, as the avian influenza virus has come to be known is actually a strain of the flu caused by the H5N1 influenza virus. It is so known because it was first observed in, and has a predilection for attacking, birds. It is usually carried to a new area by migratory wild birds, where it then spreads to domestic poultry flocks. In some areas the threat of the bird flu has caused millions of birds to be culled to prevent the spread of the disease to even more birds, and possibly, humans.
Although the disease was first observed in Asia in 1997, it has since spread throughout a large portion of the globe, touching down in Africa and western Europe in early 2006.Why the commotion about a flu that infects birds? First of all the severe economic damage that is caused by the loss of millions of poultry is especially devastating in many of the countries that have been affected to date. Many of these countries have an extremely high dependence on poultry flocks as an economic staple. But the more dire consequence of the H5N1 virus is that it can kill humans too.
In fact, it is an especially effective killer of humans, with a mortality rate so far of over 50% of those infected. So far, all cases of the virus affecting humans have been traced back to infected birds. There has been no documented case of human to human transmission, although some have been suspected.
Unlike some of the more traditional influenza viruses that infect humans, the bird flu does not limit itself to the old and previously ill when it kills. Many of those that have perished from the H5N1 virus have been in their teens and twenties, an age group that has been traditionally protected from the worst effects of influenza viruses. This is an uncanny parallel to some of the other extremely deadly influenza strains that have infected humans, such as the Spanish Influenza of 1918. The Spanish Influenza of 1918 was a pandemic. A pandemic is an epidemic outbreak of disease that spreads to a good portion of the globe. In the 1918 flu pandemic as many as 40 million people are thought to have died in less than a year.
There is a great fear among health officials in many countries and the World Health Organization that the bird flu could spawn such a pandemic. The key ingredient for a pandemic to occur is the ability for the flu virus to be easily transmitted between humans. According to the WHO "events during 2004, supported by epidemiological and virological surveillance, have given the world an unprecedented warning that a pandemic may be imminent". Easy human to human transmission of the bird flu could bring incalculable devastation to humanity. By some estimates, 250 ? 300 million people, possibly more, could die within 6 months from an influenza pandemic.
The loss of life and the strain on health care systems and national economies could spell ruin for many. All that is necessary for a pandemic to occur is a mutation of the H5N1 virus to a form that will allow humans to infect other humans. It takes just a small change in the surface proteins of the virus to allow this to happen. With the speed of modern transportation systems infected persons would spread the virus throughout the globe in matter of weeks.Health authorities throughout the world are bracing for the effects of such a pandemic.
The World Health Organization has 112 offices throughout the world that are tasked with monitoring and isolating influenza viruses. It is hoped this will allow the beginnings of a pandemic to be recognized in time..Find out what you need to know to protect you and your loved ones from a possible bird flu pandemic at Bird Flu Prevention.
By: Steve Faber