Bird Flu Panic Sets In

     President Bush will outline a vaccination plan today to combat against the deadly bird flu. 

            The H5N1 avian flu has infected 122 people and killed 62 in Europe and Asia. Although, no cases have been reported in America, experts still believe that it could cause a deadly pandemic.

            The World Health Organization said that no country is prepared to handle such a crisis and the United States is no exception. Furthermore, the United States only five companies that produces vaccines.

            Vaccine producers feel the profit is too small and the process too tedious. The technology for making flu vaccines is 40 years old, dependent on eggs, and takes months to produce a single dose, according to MSNBC.com.

            Bush is urging more vaccines plants to set up in the U.S. and find better solutions. Michael Leavitt, Health and Human Services Secretary, says the pandemic flu plan has four points: better disease surveillance, stockpiling drugs and vaccines, creating a network of federal, state and local preparedness and public education.

            The bird flu is an infection caused by a natural virus found only in birds. Wild birds in particular carry the viruses in their intestines, but they do not get sick from it. On the other hand, the bird flu is very contagious among birds. The virus could cause domestic birds, including chicken and turkey, to become very sick and could kill them, the CDC’s explains.

            In 1997, the first bird flu outbreak of bird flu happened in Hong Kong and caused 18 people to suffer from severe respiratory illnesses, six of whom died, said the CDC’s website.

            Since 1997, more than 16 outbreaks of the bird flu influenza, labeled as H5 and H7, have occurred among poultry in the United States, which is monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

            Even though the bird flu virus is different from the human flu virus, experts speculate that one of the three types of the human flu virus carries a genetic part found also in the bird flu virus. Over time, health officials believe that since various flu viruses are forever mutating, the bird flu virus could eventually “adapt over time to infect and spread among humans” and lead to an influenza pandemic- a worldwide outbreak of the disease transmitted through humans.

            This is what concerns medical experts. Experts are watching the bird flu virus very closely to see whether the virus becomes transmittable through people. If this happens the disease can spread easier and rapidly, according to the CDC.

            A virus subtypes caused three pandemics, all of which spread around the world within a year of being detected,” said Jennifer Morcone, a Centers for Disease Control spokeswoman. “Most experts believe it’s just a matter of time for another pandemic strain to emerge.”

            The bird flu symptoms are similar to human flu: fever, cough, a sore throat and muscle aches. But the symptoms could be more severe and include eye infections and pneumonia. The virus is spread through infected birds through their saliva, nasal secretions and feces. It is believed that the cases involving infected humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC.

Some doctors are stocking up on a particular flu drug called Tamiflu which is said to counter the bird flu virus, Morcone said. 

            “The U.S. government has stockpiled drugs and is investing in vaccine to protect people from avian flu.  Currently no vaccine is available to protect humans against the (bird flu) virus that is being seen in Asia. Vaccine development efforts are under way,” Morcone said, adding that research studies to test a bird flu vaccine against the virus began in April.

            At a Washington supermarket pharmacy Thursday, a health coordinator administering this year’s flu vaccine had to answer a barrage of questions concerning the bird flu virus.

            “We have had some questions,” said Tandra Willis, a nurse for Maxim, a national healthcare provider. “People are very concerned. Will this vaccine help against this strain [of bird flu virus]? The answer is ‘no.'”

            In an effort to educate people and to answer the bombardment of questions concerning the virus, her company printed flyers explaining the facts and the myths.

            “It hasn’t hit the U.S., but it’s likely that it could happen,” Willis said.