Bird Flu, Not Your Average Chicken Dinner

SARS swept through Asia and killed almost 800 worldwide. Health officials coupled with several Asian leaders are remainingoptimistic that the current outbreak will not reach a similarmagnitude as years past.  


Ministers from 10 Asian countries said theywould work closely to eradicate SARS, by pledging to increasesurveillance of the virus and help develop low-cost drugs, vaccinesand test kits.  


Eleven pharmaceutical companies have committedto making the vaccine, but World Health Organization (WHO)officials are still concerned that the virus could cause widespreaddamage. 


“We are observing a possible pandemicsituation and we are trying to take precautionary measures in casesignificant human to human transmission takes place,” saidKlaus Stohr in a BBC news article.  Stohr heads the WHOsglobal influenza program.  


Because the bird flu was first reported out ofHong Kong in 1997 and has again sprouted in that region, many Asiannations are attempting to allay fears and stifle potential lossesin their chicken exports.  


The Thai government earns $1.3 billion dollarsfrom its chicken, which partially explains why it attempted tocover up the outbreak in its country.  Indonesiasimply refused to carry out mass killings of its poultry because itdid not have the money to compensate its farmers.  


In Vietnam, two women aged 23 and 30, whoprepared chicken for their brother’s wedding died from the birdflu, which created heightened concern among health officialsbecause the very old and very young are typical victims of the flu. 


Howard Psychology major, Amanda Ashley, saidthat the governments who tarried on critical flu details wereacting within reasonable bounds because of the low death countcaused by bird flu. 


“Many times those who have control knowmore about the dangers that affect our lives and are makingattempts to prevent things from blowing out of proportion.” 

She went on to say that, the bird flu, inrelation to the SARS pandemic of last year, has not causeddisproportionate death around the world, let alone Asia.


What exactly is the bird flu and how does itdiffer from the average flu? 

According to the Center for Disease Control,Influenza viruses that infect birds are called “avianinfluenza viruses.”  Birds are an especially importantspecies because all known “subtypes” of influenza Aviruses circulate among wild birds, which are considered thenatural hosts for influenza A viruses.  


The reported symptoms of avian influenza inhumans have ranged from typical influenza-like symptoms such asfever, cough, and sore throat to eye infections, pneumonia, viralpneumonia, and other severe and life-threateningcomplications. 


What worries health officials most is that allinfluenza viruses can alter into a more damaging form that couldinfect humans and spread easily from person to person.  

Because these viruses do not commonly infecthumans, there is little or no immune protection against them in thehuman population. If an avian virus were able to infect people andgain the ability to spread easily from person to person, an”influenza pandemic” could begin. 


As of late March, Vietnam expected to declarethat it was free of bird flu.  But, PeterHorby, who is an epidemiologist at the United Nations’ healthagency said that UN is remaining cautious about the news and that”there is still a lot of potential for a newoutbreak.”