Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Flu watch

I'm trying not to be an alarmist about H5N1 but events are unfolding that need to be reported and watched.

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An outbreak of bird flu that has killed several people and which is suspected of infecting more in the Indonesian capital Jakarta can be called an epidemic, Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said on Wednesday.

"This can be described as an epidemic. These (cases) will happen again as long as we cannot determine the source," Supari told reporters, referring to the emergence of cases in recent months in and around different parts of the teeming city. LINK

The H5N1 blog keeps a wary eye on this stuff. Like Brendan Loy was watching the weather. Just because few people seem to be listening doesn't change the fact that they could be right.

In a matter of hours, the tone of avian-flu news has darkened. The Jakarta cases look like the real thing: H2H, human-to-human transmission of a virus that kills over half of those it infects. The latest story on ABC News seems fairly typical of the new mood. On a beautiful end-of-summer afternoon in Vancouver, with golden sunlight flooding over the flowers in my wife's garden, it seems strange to say: "This could be it." But this could be it.

I spoke to my colleagues at a faculty-association meeting today, asking that we organize a college-wide emergency-planning committee that would work with municipal, provincial and federal agencies. A little to my surprise, the response was a unanimous vote of support. That's encouraging, but I think we're going to have to work fast.

Maybe we'll look back on the summer of 2005 the way our grandparents and great-grandparents looked back on the summers of 1939 and 1914: as the last sweet summer before the darkness. I hope I'm mistaken.

You get that? H2H? Human-to-human.

That's the last step in the mutation chain that makes conversations about birds and swine academic. Once the virus jumps to humans, then starts to pass from one human to another, whether or not chickens carry it is largely a matter of curiosity. One sick human carrier on an airplane is a lot more scary than thousands of dead chickens, if that person has the H2H variant of the same virus.

If you need a more popular source for credibility, be sure to follow the ABC link. They're a pretty big outfit, not given to crazy reporting. Well, not often anyway.

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