HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bird Flu Update

Effect Measure and the Daily Kos blog bring us updated information on the spread of the H5N1 avian flu strain.  Daily Kos provides a helpful summary, with charts and graphs.  Here is the latest,

Five members of a family in Pakistan are among eight people who may be the country's first human cases of bird flu, the World Health Organization said. At least one brother died.

Pakistan's national laboratory found the lethal H5N1 avian flu strain caused the infections in three brothers and two cousins from the same family, according to information from a Dec. 15 WHO statement and Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman in Geneva. Another brother from the U.S., who attended a funeral for one of the victims, and his son tested negative for the virus at a hospital in Nassau County, New York, Hartl said.

Medical teams have been sent to Pakistan to assist local authorities in investigating the cases, in which two people had only mild symptoms, Hartl said. Doctors are monitoring for signs avian flu may be adapting to humans by killing fewer people, fostering its spread.

Daily Kos goes on to note the importance of keeping informed.  They state,

So what do we take away from all of this? H5N1 is endemic in bird populations and will not simply go away. New outbreaks in new countries are likely part of the 'new normal', and we should expect a steady diet of news like this, particularly this time of year. In addition, the idea that "this will never be seen in North America" needs to be seriously rethought by anyone still holding on to that concept. We had a near miss last week, and  modern travel conditions make the possibility of a human case in NYC more than just science fiction. . . .

Preparations to mitigate a pandemic need to be carried out beforehand, and are currently being done in many places throughout the United States and the world (for example, by groups as diverse as the American Red Cross, law enforcement, State Departments of Health, and many others). The ubiquity of the preparations, which may include your local school system, tells you something about the threat.

The next pandemic may not be H5N1, but H5N1 remains a candidate virus, and the planning to handle an event such as a pandemic will help with whatever comes (there's nothing wrong with an all-hazards approach to disaster preparation, as long as the all-hazards approach includes things as extensive as pandemics). Do yourself a favor and review your own family plans for natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms. Stock up on two weeks of food and water, and plan for power outages, if relevant to your community (it's very relevant in New England). You can rotate your stock and keep it fresh. It's time well spent and the effort will not go to waste.

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