After the attention grabbing headline here, maybe time for a thread on H5N1 bird flu not being the major pandemic threat that so many would have us believe.
I used to think we were indeed on brink of something devastating, till contacted by science writer Wendy Orent, and read an article by her, arguing that natural selection goes against flu becoming highly virulent: 1918-1919 Spanish Flu was so bad as it evolved in First World War conditions. Wendy was drawing on ideas from, especially, Paul Ewald (see also thread here on evolutionary biology; as noted there, have been arguments to try and counter this, but none seem strong).
Now, seeing rather more articles that suggest risks have been overplayed.
For instance, Mayor pours cold water over bird flu, From New Zealand, includes:
He has a PHD, he's a mayor and a member of health board, and he says we could be spending our money on better things than bird flu campaigns.
And as the Ministry of Health launches one of those campaigns, Malcom MacPherson has launched his own. ... "We're getting ourselves really excited about an event that's just fiction," Macpherson says. ... Dr MacPherson may not be a medical doctor, but he does have a PHD in science, and as well as being mayor he's a member of the Otago District Health Board.
"People are genuinely buying survival kits, they're genuinely not travelling overseas, they're not buying chicken at their supermarkets for goodness sake there's no need for it," MacPherson says.
No need for it, he says, because it has been hyped up by those with vested interests - like the drug companies and the media.
"There's no evidence anywhere in the world that I've seen yet that this thing has transferred person to person," says MacPherson.
"It's really difficult to catch it from a bird, you've got to be in Turkey or China or somewhere like that and bite the head off the chicken frankly to catch this," he says.
Article appearing first in Straits Times, Bird Flu: A Lesser Killer Than Touted? includes:
This means that hundreds to thousands of people may already have been infected and have developed just mild symptoms not requiring hospitalisation. As such, they fail to appear in official figures.
This notion, however, is directly opposed to the stand which the World Health Organisation (WHO) takes that transmission of H5N1 from birds to humans (and from human to human) is rare, so rare that there have only been just 148 human cases worldwide, of whom 79 have died.
Is the unorthodox view--that bird flu in humans is more common than the WHO thinks--bereft of further support?
Not at all. In fact, there has always been suggestive evidence that contradicted the WHO stand, though little attention has been paid to such data, probably out of deference to the world health agency. ... If the bug's kill rate is much less than 53%--given the official WHO tally of 78 deaths out of 147 confirmed cases--then many people may be infected in a pandemic but most may just come down with a mild illness. That is, far fewer will perish than current projections say. ... Perhaps, the public posturing of the WHO is just a well intentioned way to keep governments on their toes.
Here's a letter that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in November:
Bird flu hysteria
Once again, President Bush is misinforming the American public: (1) There is no effective vaccine against bird flu — the cornerstone of Bush's "plan"; (2) There is no proven therapy either. Tamiflu is a drug of no proven value in bird flu; (3) There is no proof that the present bird flu virus can be transmitted from person to person. Right now, it is an infection of birds that can be transmitted from very sick birds to humans who handle them or eat them.
It is time to stop misinforming the public and time to stop fanning mass hysteria.
DANIEL HOLLANDER MD
Professor of Medicine, UCLA