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World Crisis scenarios for the 21st century – Bird Flu (H5N1) and other pandemic Virus concerns

Posted by Adrian on July 20, 2007

Will the 21st Century shape up to be the century of pandemic virus outbreaks? The ramification of a severe and devastating pandemic is frightening. The world is more interconnected than ever before, trade and the flow of workers crossing country boarders is staggering. The huge concern of eminent world heath bodies like the World Health Organization is how efficient governments, health organizations can contain the virus within a countries border. In some ways a near impossible feat. The virus that is concerning every one at this point in time is Bird Flu or (H5N1), not to mention the lesser ones in the media spotlight like SARS.

World Crisis scenarios for the 21st century – Bird Flu (H5N1) and other pandemic Virus concerns

An influenza virus first emerged in Hong Kong in 1997, it was a strain of the influenzas virus that also effects poultry and other birds. It was giving the media term of the avian influenza or bird flu. Avian, meaning relating to or characteristic of birds and poultry. The H5N1 viruses the reappeared in China in 2003, a 24 year old solider died from the disease. From 2003 onward Asia had a Bird Flu outbreak. The outbreak occurred around three main regions, Vietnam, Indonesia and China. The main Asian country to be affected by the H5N1 strain was Indonesia, in all of it’s 102 cases of theH5N1 (Bird Flu strain) 81 people have died.

At this point in this particular influenza strain (H5N1) , the virus is able to jump from bird to human. The H5N1 is easily passed on through bird livestock to who ever is handling the birds. Concerns on the spread of H5N1 are the migration of birds and bird trading, according to the World Health Organization (WHO);

“Apart from being highly contagious among poultry, avian influenza viruses are readily transmitted from farm to farm by the movement of live birds, people (especially when shoes and other clothing are contaminated), and contaminated vehicles, equipment, feed, and cages. Highly pathogenic viruses can survive for long periods in the environment, especially when temperatures are low. For example, the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus can survive in bird faeces for at least 35 days at low temperature (4oC). At a much higher temperature (37oC), H5N1 viruses have been shown to survive, in faecal samples, for six days.”

The Bird Flu in it’s current state is an animal to human disease and is proving to be hard to contain. Is is also deadly and causes death. Can the H5N1 mutate to become a virus that spreads from human to human? A potential possibility according to the WHO:

” The virus can improve its transmissibility among humans via two principal mechanisms. The first is a “re assortment” event, in which genetic material is exchanged between human and avian viruses during co-infection of a human or pig. Reassortment could result in a fully transmissible pandemic virus, announced by a sudden surge of cases with explosive spread.”

If that becomes the case, this will become a pandemic visrus and one that will spread quicker than any other virus or disease in history. Due to the free flow and interconnectivity of the world, the global village. Without resorting too much to alarmist based hysteria. The effects of a global pandemic could and mostly likely bring down financial markets, effect economies and cause mass death. As world-renowned virologist Robert Webster wrote in American Scientist with and article titled “The world is teetering on the edge of a pandemic that could kill a large fraction of the human population”

As world health organizations struggle to contain any out breaks from the bird to human H5N1 strain, the situation grows potential worrying, as the H5N1 now has spread other parts of the world outside of Asia, although contained primarily to the Asian region, there are now reports of Bird Flu in Turkey, which is closer to Europe, current confirmed cases from the H5N1 – Avian Bird Flu strain:

Country

 

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Total

cases

deaths

cases

deaths

cases

deaths

cases

deaths

cases

deaths

cases

deaths

Azerbaijan 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 5 0 0 8 5
Cambodia 0 0 0 0 4 4 2 2 1 1 7 7
China 1 1 0 0 8 5 13 8 3 2 25 16
Djibouti 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0
Egypt 0 0 0 0 0 0 18 10 19 5 37 15
Indonesia 0 0 0 0 20 13 55 45 27 23 102 81
Iraq 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 2 0 0 3 2
Lao People’s Democratic Republic 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 2 2
Nigeria 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1
Thailand 0 0 17 12 5 2 3 3 0 0 25 17
Turkey 0 0 0 0 0 0 12 4 0 0 12 4
Viet Nam 3 3 29 20 61 19 0 0 2 0 95 42
Total 4 4 46 32 98 43 115 79 55 34 318 192

As the Bird Flu spreads over a vast area of the world, in now will become harder to contain and predict where the human to human strain will originate from, As the WHO puts it:

” The recent spread of the virus to poultry and wild birds in new areas further broadens opportunities for human cases to occur. While neither the timing nor the severity of the next pandemic can be predicted, the probability that a pandemic will occur has increased.”

So what is in store for us if there is pandemic human to human strain of the Avian Bird Flu virus? Again according to WHO dire and unpredictable in our age of world trade and commerce:

” Pandemics can cause large surges in the numbers of people requiring or seeking medical or hospital treatment, temporarily overwhelming health services. High rates of worker absenteeism can also interrupt other essential services, such as law enforcement, transportation, and communications. Because populations will be fully susceptible to an H5N1-like virus, rates of illness could peak fairly rapidly within a given community. This means that local social and economic disruptions may be temporary. They may, however, be amplified in today’s closely interrelated and interdependent systems of trade and commerce.”

A pandemic like human to human H5N1 could add to the stress and downward spiral of economies and global wealth, not to mention the collapse of over stretched and inflated financial bubbles. How many business world survive a pandemic? At this point in time there is no cure for the H5N1, except for various commercially available antibiotics to lesser the severity of the virus. If the Avian Bird Flu becomes a human to human strain, there is no known drug or antibiotics that exist that will work against the disease.

I’ll let the WHO have the last word from their FAQ regarding Avian influenza:

“Is the world adequately prepared?

No. Despite an advance warning that has lasted almost two years, the world is ill-prepared to defend itself during a pandemic. WHO has urged all countries to develop preparedness plans, but only around 40 have done so. WHO has further urged countries with adequate resources to stockpile antiviral drugs nationally for use at the start of a pandemic. Around 30 countries are purchasing large quantities of these drugs, but the manufacturer has no capacity to fill these orders immediately. On present trends, most developing countries will have no access to vaccines and antiviral drugs throughout the duration of a pandemic.”

Links:

WHO faq – Avian Bird Flu

Wikipedia – H5N1

American Scientist – Robert G Webster article

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS is a lesser known disease that appeared between 2003 and 2004. in that short period of time it became a pandemic virus killing 774 people and infecting 8,096. SARS was able to infect people from Asia, Europe and America. It was easily spread worldwide by infected people via air travel. The symptoms were flu-like and may include: fever, myalgia, lethargy, gastrointestinal symptoms, sore throat and coughing and other non-specific symptoms. The only symptom that is common to all patients appears to be a fever above 38 °C (100.4 °F). Shortness of breath may occur later.

The virus origins, according to sarsreference.org,

Investigations then focused on members of the Paramyxoviridae family, after paramyxovirus-like particles were found by electron microscopy of respiratory samples from patients in Hong Kong and Frankfurt am Main. Further investigations showed that human metapneumovirus (hMPV; van den Hoogen) was present in a substantial number of, but not in all, SARS patients reported at the time.

SARS also had a long incubation period before a person shows any symptoms, usually 2-3 days before the virus shows itself as far as effects on the body. Because of the long incubation period of the disease, it has been hard to track the progress or movement of SARS. Airports across Asia and China used Thermal imagery equipment to see if anyone was showing an unusually high body temperature.

800px-taoyuan_airport_thermal_sars.jpg
(Thermal scanning station China)

In it’s short pandemic time, SARS was contained and a vaccine was development that appeared to stop the virus and help the patient create antibodies to fight the disease.

Could another more resilient strain of SARS mutate anytime soon?

Reference Links:

SARS Reference Org

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5 Responses to “World Crisis scenarios for the 21st century – Bird Flu (H5N1) and other pandemic Virus concerns”

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  5. […] we are forgetting potential virus related crisis’s. Bird flu could still reappear refer to World Crisis scenarios for the 21st century – Bird Flu (H5N1) and other pandemic Virus concerns, or other pan epidemic virus. I wouldn’t completed live in an arrogant bubble assuming that […]

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