Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Captain Chirps Update

From the Department of Health & Human Services, via Double H:

We are in a race. We are in a race against a fast moving virulent virus with the potential to cause an influenza pandemic. In November when President Bush announced the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus was confirmed in birds in 16 countries. It was known to have infected 122 people and 62 – half of those infected – died. Today, four months later, H5N1 has spread to 37 nations on three continents; 175 people have been infected and 96 of them have died. To date, most of those people were exposed to infected poultry. Fortunately, there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease, but the rapid spread of H5N1 is reason for concern.

We are in a race, a race against a quick changing virus, for H5N1 has not only spread, it has evolved. There are now two main variants, or clades, of H5N1 and it is this second, newer clade that is spreading across western Asia into Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This second clade has killed over 60% of those it is known to have infected.

The "tick, tick, tick" motif may be a bit 24-esque, and the sample population of bird flu contractees isn't statistically significant enough yet to make the 50-60% mortality rate a hard and fast expectation, but it does seem like it's just a matter of time until the other shoe of human-to-human communicability falls. And if/when it does, and the death rate is half or even a quarter of what it has been thus far....

I guess we'd all better practice holding our breath indefinitely.

UPDATE: NRO has a Captain Chirps symposium today whose overall anxiety level is mixed at best. Still, it seems to me that it's better to be safe than sorry - or dead.