Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bird Flu Update

CFR has a summary of what is curently known (and unknown) about H5N1, including an ABC News report that is cautiously reassuring.

With regard to raising this flag, Hinrichs says that for a bird influenza virus to reach the level of a pandemic and become dangerous to humans, three things must occur. First, the bird virus must be virulent or capable of causing disease. Second, it must be a new virus that can avoid our existing immune system. And third, the virus must be able to spread from human to human.

"At the present time, the current H5N1 virus has only the first two characteristics," he says. "Dr. Kawaoka's research findings add to our ability to detect the basic element of the third characteristic, the ability to pass infection from human to human.
"By analogy, the current H5N1 virus is like an enemy that possesses a nuclear device, has the intention of using the nuclear device, but does not have a delivery missile," Hinrichs says. "When all three are present, the enemy becomes fully capable, and we must increase our readiness to respond."

So far, not a single case of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 has been recorded. Also, the United States remains apparently untouched by H5N1, as no human or bird cases have yet been reported in the country.

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