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Monday, August 14th 2006

A Scour of the Internet…

…leads us to a Bird Flu “update.” Cause I felt like it.

H5N1 in swans in Michigan. The oh-so-scientifically proficient AP gives us this,

“This is not the highly pathogenic avian influence virus that has spread through much of other parts of the world,” said Ron DeHaven, administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“We do not believe this virus represents a risk to human health,” he declared.

Still, even the low-pathogenic H5N1 requires monitoring, because it has the potential to mutate into the highly pathogenic form — the kind that rapidly kills birds, especially poultry. If it were found in the U.S., that would trigger additional security steps to prevent wild birds from infecting commercial poultry flocks.

Thank you, AP.

The discovery is a result of stepped up testing in the US as the migratory season continues.

We’ve also got a case of avian flu in a european zoo (which you know is serious because, it rhymes). Luckily the Czechs are on it.

This story smells slightly better than the whimsical claims of the Russian health minister last year. My original post is here.

And still we get differing opinions on just how much of a risk this poses.

On the one hand,

Unlike the 1918 pandemic though, human-to-human transmission has been rare. A recently released study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the H5N1 virus — the version that is responsible for the deadly Asian bird flu — does not readily adapt to human flu strains.

The results were enough for some experts to say that the H5N1 virus may not cause the world’s next global pandemic..

And on the other,

But the test results shouldn’t lessen anyone’s concerns about a pandemic, according to Mike Osterholm, director of the center for infectious disease research at the University of Minnesota.

“You can’t interpret anything from that. Nothing,” Osterholm said. He added that a pandemic of some sort will occur sometime in the future and that “if it is H5N1, we’re in trouble.”

In previous posts (what I didn’t know what I was talking about?!), I had questioned why there wasn’t much data on the indicidence of subclinical or asymptomatic infections. Why were people freaking out when we didn’t know the whole story? Well, apparently there is little data out on the subject because the data that is available isn’t good, and it is a politically sensitive issue.

You can find a nice collection of the data that is available at FluWiki. These studies have small sample sizes it is true, and I’m not sure what their power is. For instance, from a Cambodian study,

Cox said it will be important to do this type of work on a larger scale, to get a more definitive picture of whether mild or asymptomatic H5N1 human cases are occurring. She said some larger studies are planned.

Still, it partially incapacitates one of my concerns about flu freakout.