Sunday, April 09, 2006

Bird Flu

H5N1 influenza is definitely a bad deal if you contract it. It preferentially kills older children and young adults quickly. Those groups usually survive normal influenza epidemics. In that respect it is like the 1918 influenza strain. It is like the 1918 strain in its effect, causing bleeding of the lungs. You basically drown in your own blood.

The article is correct. There are better ways to make a vaccine. The traditional method is cumbersome and likely will have to be modified since the strain is lethal to chickens. It may kill the embryos in the eggs. Thus, culturing in chicken eggs may not make enough virus for a vaccine.

As for the risk of it mutating such that human to human transmission is easier, that risk is unknown and the probability of it happening may not be easily quantifiable. It may only only need one or two mutations in one gene, but likely those mutations will have to occur in a particular order or sequence. Then you have to have a human come in contact with the infected bird carrying the mutant strain. It probably doesn't help that they are giving birds the only effective antiviral. Should the virus become resistant to it, before we have a global vaccine and it manages to become easily transmissible in humans, then likely it's game over. However, like the article said, this strain has been around for 3-5 years and it's not become human transmissible yet. WHO should probably start vaccinating people in spots where bird flu outbreaks are occurring, like they did with smallpox. But, who pays the bill for that? Can we afford not to? These are public health questions that need to be debated and answered quickly. Clearly, the people who know what the disease does and how to treat it are being ignored to an extent if the article is correct. Spot vaccination is the likeliest most cost effective solution, but it will take time to implement. Do we have that time or have we wasted it, or will this outbreak never happen in people? The best way to be certain though, is to just inoculate everyone against this particular strain.
You worry too much. Oh yes, I forgot, you have PhD in microbiology.
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