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Bird Flu - Archives


December 7th - December 13th, 2005

The Upside of Pandemic

A psychologist tells the Birmingham Business Journal the difference between productive worry about bird flu and unproductive worry:


Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says the very word pandemic is scary indeed, and some within the general population are panicking about the possibility of the occurrence "because it's been brought to our attention almost daily."


"I suppose the upside is that pandemic doesn't make epidemic sound so bad," Klapow says. The problem, he says, is not the news media's reporting in general but rather the repeated use of sound bites that reduce the average citizen's exposure to the subject to words and phrases like "pandemic," "not prepared" and "millions dead."


"The bottom line is that there's a lot more to public health issues than the doom and gloom people focus on, and it clearly becomes a situation of productive versus unproductive worrying," Klapow says.


Productive worrying involves variables people can control; unproductive worrying involves intangibles. "Unproductive worrying doesn't get you anywhere, and it causes unnecessary stress, so it becomes a question of how do you take that worry about something you can't possibly control and channel it into productive actions," he says.


"We can be as panicked as we want about a flu pandemic, but in the process we put our bodies at risk for contracting illness because heightened stress compromises our immune systems."


Klapow suggests backtracking to what is known rather than what could possibly be. The reality is that influenza season has arrived and, even under normal conditions, a small percentage of the U.S. population grows gravely ill and even dies from flu-related complications each year. Another known factor is that the flu is highly contagious, so infected people should not work while ill. Doing so prolongs the duration of the sick person's recovery while exposing his or her co-workers to the virus.


"Sick employees put an entire office at risk, and healthy habits provide employees more control to not only eliminate fear about a pandemic but also do something to directly create a safer workplace," he says. Adequate sleep, exercise, proper diet and keeping stress levels in check all strengthen an individual's immune system and decrease the chances of falling ill in the first place. "Far and away the biggest impact on health -- whether bacterial infection, virus or chronic disease -- the biggest impact comes from what people do or don't do every day," Klapow says.

December 13th, 2005


Prescribing Tamiflu – What Would You Do?

Randy Cohen has gained renown for his witty, pithy weekly column, The Ethicist, in the New York Times. On Sunday he answered a query from a doctor about prescribing Tamiflu:


Like many physicians, I am inundated with requests for Tamiflu, the best hope for combating avian flu should a pandemic occur. Because it is in short supply, I prescribe Tamiflu only to those with an immediate need, not those who want it on hand as a precaution - whether my patients, my family or me. When a close relative requested a prescription, I explained my reluctance, but the relative strongly persisted. I don't want to compromise my ethics or damage family harmony. What should I do? J. B., Philadelphia


Here is part of his reply:


You should remain firm. Family pressure can be powerful enough to squeeze a lump of coal into a diamond, but it should not be powerful enough to compel you to do for a relative what you would not do for your patients, your spouse, your children or yourself.

December 12th, 2005


It May Never Happen

A bird flu pandemic may not occur, says a prominent scientist, contradicting the claims of inevitability from many others.


"It may never happen," said Jeremy Farrar, director of Oxford University's clinical research unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dr Farrar said weaknesses inherent in the virus might explain why it had not killed more people and had not been passed from human to human in the two years since the first outbreak.


…"There may be constraints on the virus so that it may not be able to mutate and retain its nastiness and also go from one human to another," he said. "We haven't seen a case in Ho Chi Minh City for several months."


…"Why have so few people been infected, given the billions of poultry across Asia and so many people exposed to them on a daily basis?" Dr Farrar said.

December 12th, 2005


Is China Concealing Bird Flu Deaths?

Yes, says another prominent expert, Guan Yi of the University of Hong Kong. "Quite honestly, some provinces have the virus and they still haven't announced any outbreak. I can show direct evidence, even though China is still trying very hard to block my research," he told the Globe and Mail newspaper.


The World Health Organization continues to support the Chinese authorities, who deny any cover-up.

December 10th, 2005


Then Panic

Headline at, from a story in South Africa’s Business Day:


'Don't Panic, Wait 'Til Bird Flu Arrives, Then Panic'

December 10th, 2005


Two Million Dead and a Major Recession

The US Congressional Budget Office has produced a report on the possible impact of a bird flu pandemic on the US economy. It does not make pleasant reading.


If a pandemic similar in scope to the 1918-19 Spanish flu outbreak were to occur, 30% of Americans would become ill and 2.5% of those would die, the CBO said. U.S. output would be reduced by about 5%, which would be the worst recession since 1980 and about average for recessions since World War II.


"The most important effects would be a sharp decline in demand as people avoided shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces, and a shrinking of labor supply as workers became ill or stayed home out of fear or to take care of others who were sick," CBO said.


CBO estimated those who got ill and survived would miss an average of 3 weeks of work.

Under the severe scenario, demand in many industries would drop by about 10%. Sales at arts, entertainment, recreation and food services sectors would plunge by 80%. Transportation services, such as air, rail and transit, would fall by 67%. Demand for health care would rise by 15%, CBO said.

December 9th, 2005


Bird Flu Ghost City

About 40 or 50 years ago it was joked that my city, Melbourne, was so boring that it was virtually a ghost town. For example, there was the famous “quote” from Ava Gardner, filming the movie “On the Beach” in Melbourne in 1959, that “’On the Beach' is a story about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it." (It later transpired that a journalist had manufactured that particular quote. Ava never said it.)


Well, now we’re about to become that way again if bird flu arrives. The headline in our local Herald Sun newspaper says it all “Ghost city plan to fight bird flu.”


[The state of] Victoria will be locked down if bird flu strikes here, under radical plans unveiled by the State Government. Melbourne would become a virtual ghost town as sporting venues, concerts, churches, cinemas, the casino and other areas were shut down.

Venues where "many people congregate" would be closed immediately if a case of human-to-human bird flu happened in a public place in Victoria. The Commonwealth Games would be cancelled if an outbreak happened before March, and major shopping centres and public transport could also be shut.


Premier Steve Bracks told the Herald Sun the State Government would be forced to ban people from gathering in public places. "If a pandemic affected 30 per cent of the Victorian population, estimates in the plan say this could lead to almost 25,000 hospitalisations and more than 10,000 deaths," he said.

December 8th, 2005


Bird Flu Round-Up

China – a 10-year-old girl has reportedly tested positive for the H5N1 virus. It would be only the country’s fourth official case of human infection.


Indonesia – the World Health Organization has confirmed the country’s eighth bird flu death. Altogether, there have been 13 confirmed cases of human infection in Indonesia.


Ukraine has declared its first state of emergency since 1991, following an outbreak of bird flu. The country’s senior vet has been sacked, for delays in responding to the problem. Locals say birds have been dying since September.


Myanmar officials have assured the world they will report any bird flu outbreaks in the country. They say none have occurred so far.


Tamiflu – a young Vietnamese girl, infected with mild influenza symptoms was given Tamiflu, and subsequently developed a strain of the avian flu virus that was highly resistant to the drug. Sixteen South Korean drugs companies have notified the Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association that they can produce Tamiflu. Twelve of them have already submitted samples.


Vaccines – Michael Fumento provides a most comprehensive round-up of the latest developments.

December 7th, 2005