November 3, 2005 4:00 AM PST

A bird flu resource guide

If the avian influenza slowly spreading from Asia to Europe turns into a global pandemic, as many fear, few will be able to say there was no warning.

World health experts have been alarmed by this new, deadly strain of bird flu since it killed more than 30 people in Thailand and Vietnam last year. And television outlets ranging from PBS to local television stations have weighed in on the chances of a bird flu outbreak in the United States.

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On Tuesday, President Bush called on Congress to spend $7.1 billion on preparedness for a pandemic, which could be brought on by a mutated strain of bird flu (technically, the H5N1 virus). Experts have warned that in such an event millions of people worldwide could be killed.

To health experts, the proposal seemed long overdue. To the public, it was a double-edged sword, offering a sense of relief that the government was acting to protect the country, but also stoking fears that a superflu is on its way.

Nevertheless, no one really knows if the latter is really true.

"In terms of the bird flu, which is currently devastating the bird population and has made 150 people sick (worldwide), half of which have died, nobody knows if that would ever cause a human pandemic, or if so, when," said Arthur Reingold, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley.

"But it's possible," Reingold said. "That's what has people nervous, appropriately."

Nonetheless, there are good resources on the Internet where people can get factual, lucid information about the bird flu, its danger and its spread. Here are a few of them.

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hosts Web pages devoted to the subject, offering facts about previous flu pandemics and bird flu.

• The federal government recently set up an official Web site for information on avian flu, at

•  The World Health Organization offers regular updates on what's happening globally with the spread of avian flu.

•  The National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases has a newly expanded Web site called Focus on the Flu. The site has 30 reports on research in the field.

Certainly, there's good cause for concern, if history is a guide.

There have been three flu pandemics in the last century, the largest being in 1918, when between 25 percent and 35 percent of the world's population was affected. Known as the "Spanish flu," the virus killed more than 500,000 people in the United States, and about 50 million people worldwide.

Scientists are currently researching genetic mutations of the Spanish flu virus to understand what caused it and to compare it with the H5N1 virus.

Health experts have cautioned that regardless of whether it involves an avian flu or another strain of virus, another human pandemic is as inevitable as devastating earthquakes in California and hurricanes on the Florida coast.

"What are the chances that some kind of pandemic flu will devastate world populations again? It's almost certain," Reingold said.

Avian flu is a contagious disease caused by viruses that normally infect birds and, occasionally, pigs, according to the World Health Organization. The avian flu has also, rarely, crossed the species barrier to infect humans.

CONTINUED: A global pandemic in no time…
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Oh noes it's teh bird flu! I think this is being blown out of proportion. Why does everything have to be a "global threat" ready to kill us all? Wasn't SARS supposed to kill us all too? Weren't WMD's supposed to kill us all? Let's go live in a bunker the rest of our lives. Sensationalism plain and simple.
Posted by Bob_Barker (167 comments )
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Blindsided !
We are being blindsided by a faulty science which is totally supported by greedy drug companies, looking for even more ways to extort money, from the mass media stampeded public on the latest fad fear, of media creation to masquerade as news. Let the propaganda continue unabated!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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They'll be the ones to save us, those greedy drug companies
in the end, it will be the drug companies who save millions (billions) of people, as they have done for decades. If you think they're too greedy, stop taking your pills.
Posted by shoffmueller (236 comments )
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Definitely out of proportion!
Mutation can occur both ways.
If I remember well from my university days, a virus or bacteria that kills its host dies with it. So it's not the unadapted virus that survives. More than 99% of all viruses and bacteria existing on Earth are not only non-lethal but some even usefull (such as those helping our digestive system).
When it was first brought to Europe by the conquistadors, siphilis was a violent disease killing in a matter of days. In time, the bacteria and the human have adapted to each other. So was the chickenpox or smallpox to the indians.
Adaptation and mutation occurs (it is said!) accidentally but only those "mutants" that are better adapted to the environment survive. And adaptation definitely means letting your host survive and prosper so that you can prosper with it!
I believe it's just one huge hoax! The chances of this virus becoming harmless are AT LEAST as large as those of it becoming lethal. So... why all the histeria?! After all, common, usual human influenza STILL kills each year MORE people than the bird flu virus has killed so far. So is AIDS. Cancer. Smoking. Traffic accidents. Airplane crashes. Domestic accidents.
We're definitely over reacting! Bird flu has been here for hundred maybe thousands of years and contact between man and birds was much more close in the past than it is now (after all, how many of you have seen a living chicken in the past year?) and yet there have been no bird flu epidemics...
Maybe it's just a way of making more money quicker...!?
Posted by Kostagh (57 comments )
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Out of proportion, yes, but hoax/conspiracy no...
For years the CDC and various academic groups
have reminded us that we're overdue for a flu
pandemic. Historically they've happened every 25
years or so, but the last one was in the late
sixties and only killed about 35,000 people in
the US (around 1 million worldwide). Compare
that to the flu outbreak of 1918 that killed
500,000 in the US (about 0.5% of the population)
and about 50 million worldwide.

The avian flu is probably hyped because as it is
it has a 50% mortality rate in humans so far
(about 100% mortality in infected birds). The
1918 flu had a mortality of about 2.5% and SARS
had a mortality rate of about 4.5%.

It's rare for viruses to jump species, but this
one has. It's more rare still for it to become
transmissible (no evidence of that). For what
it's worth, mutations affecting the mortality of
the flu aren't necessarily related to those
affectings it's transmissibility. The flu could
easily still have a 50% mortality rate (or
higher) if it became transmissible. The good
news is that viruses with a high mortality rate
mercifully tend to incapacitate and kill very
quickly (maybe in a couple of days for a nasty
flu), which greatly limits their spread.

The thing that really makes difference today
isn't so much the mortality rate, but the fact
that compared to 1918, there are 4 times as many
people on the planet -- necessarily living
closer to one another, and moving around more
often and farther than ever before.

It's not really that the chances of a flu
pandemic are very high, or that this one is any
worse (as far as mortality goes, in healthy
people it's no worse than bubonic plague), but
that the press is keenly aware how poorly we (at
least in the US) handle large scale
catastrophes. On the off-chance that a pandemic
does occur, it could largely be mitigated by a
proper response. The problem is, how likely is
that? Probably zero. Hence the hype.
Posted by Gleeplewinky (289 comments )
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Free Pandemic Bird Flu Preparedness Guide
A free Pandemic Bird Flu Preparedness Guide is available at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mrjohna (7 comments )
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Interesting topic. I saw a program on television that was a mock documentary (Discovery, History Channel, Science Channel; it might have been on one of these) of a pandemic flu situation that became so bad that scientists "flipped the switch" to re-create the Big Bang (Genesis Project?). A black hole begins, sucking up a large city, land, the earth. This aired 2-3 years ago. Does anybody out there know what the title of this program, and what channel this was on? And maybe, where can I find a copy?
Posted by robbinmco (2 comments )
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