Bird Flu Yet to Fly

This is a topic I’ve not blogged lately, but I’ve continued to follow the H5N1 news all along. I became aware of, interested in, and concerned about the potential of this global public health issue while teaching biology at Radford in 2004 and 2005.

While the tens of millions of birds who have died from it or been slaughtered because of it might not think so, the virus has been kind to the planet by an evolution toward human transmission that has been slow. But change in this direction has not been non-existent. And since it first appeared in a relatively small geographic area, bird hosts now harbor the virus over the majority of the planet. Take a look at the clickable map, and especially of the changes over the second half of 2006. Meanwhile, vaccine development goes on, with small victories and discouraging defeats.

And the press, understandably, is suffering from bird flu burnout, as is the general public. How does a nation, state, or community far removed from the Asian center of this pathogen remain appropriately vigilant for months, for years and not become complacent?

From Yahoo News: Bird flu surges in 2006: WHO chief – Yahoo! News: … 2006 was a record year for human bird flu deaths. There were 161 deaths from bird flu worldwide in 2006 out of 267 confirmed cases, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.

“More deaths occurred in 2006 than in the previous years combined,” the WHO director general said Monday.

The fatality rate reached 70 percent last year, 10 percent above the average since the first recorded deaths in China and Vietnam in 2003.

“The message is straightforward: we must not let down our guard,” Chan said at the opening of the WHO’s executive board meeting.

“As long as the virus continues to circulate in birds, the threat of a pandemic will persist. The world is years away from control in the agricultural sector,” she warned.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. It is almost like the slow run up of the HIV outbreak. Let’s hope it doesn’t become the problem that HIV has become…And the thought of this disease moving into sub-Sahara Africa where it can be mutated in the bodies already taxed by HIV is particularly scary. And from the map I see we are there.

    If this begins to get out of control, be prepared for a world without birds. I can already see the worlds governments beginning that control measure. Are we looking at the final extinction of the dinosaurs?

  2. i still worry and think about this…. either way, we’re starting to take steps to become a little more self-sufficient.