Bird Flu Threat Overblown?

(See here) a Washington Times article that discusses the results of a Swedish study that concluded the threat from Bird Flu might not be as severe as many people believe.

From what the article says I find myself in agreement with one of the experts who is quoted. Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, called the study "terribly imprecise." "There need to be more studies like this, but with laboratory confirmation," the Nashville specialist said.

If there needs to be blood tests that could confirm that more people survive exposure to the disease then we are presently aware of let's do the testing. Surely the amount of money necessary to further our understanding of the threat we face is justified.

Personally I do not see anything wrong with the Swedish researchers going public with "terribly imprecise" results. Their going public might motivate others to come up with the funding to conduct the scientific studies necessary to confirm what they think might be true.

Even if the results of the study are confirmed Bird Flu will still remain a threat that must be dealt with. However possibly the threat is a little more manageable then the 50% mortality rate that we have been supposing is true. Let's conduct the studies necessary to find out.


Blogger Michael said...

The problem is money and access (to people and good laboratories). Neither is easy in areas where bird flu has been relatively rampant (i.e., China, Vietnam, Indonesia).

Perhaps with the Turkish outbreaks, a proper study can be performed (with Turkey being geographically close to European laboratories).

The study you referred to which I also discussed here is somewhat circumstantial. It states that in Vietnam (where there was a pandemic of H5N1 avian influenza in poultry), people who handled sick birds (but not confirmed to have H5N1) were more likely to have suffered flu-like symptoms (though again, not confirmed to have H5N1). The suggestion is there, but the evidence is weak.

What we need is for large scale surveillance of a population... that is, in an area with known H5N1 in poultry for everyone to have serological tests for H5N1. If it is true that most people who get H5N1 actually have a mild flu-like illness, then we have much less to fear. However, if the majority of people do not have evidence of prior infection, it would imply that H5N1 avian influenza really does have a near 50% mortality rate.

Fear then (of eventual / ?inevitable) mutation to a human pandemic form is justified.

Michael Tam

1/11/2006 02:27:00 AM  

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