Bird flu: is there a reason to worry ?
In the past few weeks there have been rumours of ‘bird flu’ contamination in Libya, with accusations and disclaimers flowing back and forth .Of course upon hearing that there is even a remote possibility that this could be true and some poultry is indeed contaminated, I started to worry. Worrying is inversely proportional to knowledge, especially when world wide press and so called experts warn of the next pandemic , whipping our collective fear.
What does that mean ? simply that because I know nothing I’m just as likely to be scared. The logical step was to tell my GP about this and ask his advice. He was very cool about it and said ‘this is rubbish , you shouldn’t worry, bird flu does not affect humans’ . Hmm I’m telling myself, that’s comforting ..so what is the fuss about then? Apart from the evident loss of poultry stock , which is very saddening it is not the human tragedy we have been led to expect. I wasn’t satisfied by this answer, dismissing my fears as if they were idiotic is not ok. So I tried to do a little research by myself to allay these fears and fill the lacunae. I’m sure you have read it all somewhere but I wish to add my 2 cents.
Basically bird flu ( or avian flu ) is propagated among the bird population, that is, it supposedly does not jump species. However, according to the CDC :
“infections with these viruses [though rare] can occur in humans [and] confirmed cases of human infection from several subtypes of avian influenza infection have been reported since 1997. Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry (e.g., domesticated chicken, ducks, and turkeys) or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds. The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another has been reported very rarely, and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person.”
So far that does not sound bad, especially that the individuals most likely to fall sick are “people who have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds”.
The H5N1 strain, reportedly the most deadly is the one being contested locally, so an outbreak could be fatal , the WHO has nevertheless reported only 130 cases in the world since January 2004.
Birds migrate, and poultry is imported from abroad so these events cannot be hermetically controlled . Currently cases have been confirmed in Asia and Europe . The White House it seems is testing the federal readiness for such an onslaught with a sophisticated ‘drill’ and experts are ‘watching’ … “Because these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immune protection against them in the human population”.There is no vaccine and the antiviral treatments are expensive and not always targeted at the particular virus. So may God help anyone who catches this virus.
So now I’m not worried anymore, my GP was right. I figured out that the lowly common flu is just as deadly in the right environment. I have an equal chance of dying of cancer or any other disease anyway. Death is inevitable. If bird flu is present we should do something about the poultry infected and take no risk with the humans involved in their care. Basic hygiene/sterilisation procedures in farms and laboratories should do the trick. As for imported poultry for consumption well what are the quality control and quarantine people doing ? They should guard our borders, and I’m positive they are doing this in view of all these leaked rumours. As for migratory birds? You cannot do anything about that .
So I’ll continue eating chicken and turkey and fowl, there is nothing that fire and microwave cannot take care of.
For further info check the bird flu Q&A here, it is jargon free and comprehensive.