United States Versus Bird Flu

by: Velicu George

Avian influenza, or bird flu as it is most commonly known, is a viral disease that has been ravishing Asia, as well as other countries, for more than two years now. Some choose to ignore the threat, but most health experts agree what we see now in the Eastern Hemisphere could be witnessed soon all across the world. Since the first outbreaks of bird flu recorded in late 2003, there have been more than 140 deaths world wide and entire poultry populations decimated. Some estimates claim a flu pandemic (world wide epidemic) could infect hundreds of millions and cause major social disruption.

With these worries in mind, the United States have closely followed the situation and with general fears that the disease could spread to their territory as well, federal and local authorities have been handed over a plan to prevent and be ready to deal with a possible avian influenza outbreak in the country. It is not clear if and when this will happen, but one can look to previous experiences and other events for clues as to how serious the threat really is for the American country.

Recent violent outbreaks in places such as Indonesia, which is now the world’s most heavily hit country, counting 47 human victims, are now followed by discoveries of low pathogenic bird flu viruses in some spots in U.S. The first one to raise fears was the case of two wild swans living on a lake in the of . Routine tests found traces of a mild form of on the birds. The announcement was made by a White House spokesman, with details being given afterwards by officials from the Agriculture and Interior Departments. While the news was given high importance, experts claim there is no reason for concern, as the virus in question is in no way related to the Asian form and is no threat to humans. More recently, wild mallard ducks from Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, were found to carry the same pathogenic agent. The same reassurances were given by U.S. officials and although some people see this as a preview for possible bird flu outbreaks, health experts say mild and low pathogenic strains of avian influenza such as this one are common in the United States, as well as other countries. Since 1975, the low pathogenic strain of the H5N1 virus (the highly pathogenic form of which is causing high mortality in Asia) has been found on six other occasions on U.S. soil.

However, claims from other researchers warn that a more aggressive form of the disease could come to the American continent as early as this fall. Indeed, summer is a rather quiet period for the virus and the large number of cases in Asia during this time is due to the virus residing there for a long period of time. Come fall, large populations of wild fowl will cover thousands of miles on regular migratory paths. These birds are the natural carriers of the virus and are also quite resistant to it. Thus, they can carry the disease for great distances, without falling ill or succumbing to the disease and showing any signs of an infection. One particular reason for concern is the Alaskan territory. Its vicinity to the Asian continent makes it one of the possible points of entry for the disease. It is also a meeting place for water fowl, as wild birds from both Asia and America choose it as a feeding and nesting environment during the summer months. U.S. authorities have implemented a plan for the summer of 2006 which included the testing of more than 15,000 birds from 27 species in the region.

The program was extended to a nationwide level as you can read on www.bird-flu-center.com, as surveillance and constant testing is seen as an effective method of preparing for a possible outbreak of the disease. Biologists are set to test tens of thousands of birds. Locally, individual counties have also prepared pandemic plans and are carrying out drills for a worst case scenario. Hospitals are setting up special units for avian influenza patients, while schools and university campuses are also preparing. In the case of a pandemic, social disruption might force such institutions to close down, as they would be a suitable environment for the virus to spread. Another prevention measure used is banning poultry and poultry products imports from countries where avian flu has been found.

Although it is widely believed that some form of bird flu epidemic will eventually occur, there are those that play down the warnings. However, countries around the world choose to play the safety card and take prevention measures. Grim estimates say that if a pandemic occurs, it will kill 1.7 million Americans in the first year alone, as a vaccine takes months to produce after the start of an epidemic. On the other hand, we can still hope the disease will be contained and dealt with before before such an outcome is reached. It is, in the end, just a matter of wait and see.

About The Author

George Velicu is the senior editor at http://www.bird-flu-center.com and the man responsible for making the website one of the most comprehensive sources for avian influenza information on the Internet. He is also the one keeping a daily record of bird flu’s developments.

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