Scientists now believe that the bird flu is killing people more slowly. Do you think that is good news? It's not. In fact, scientists fear that by not killing people as quickly, the bird flu has a much better chance of becoming a pandemic that will kill millions because it gives the disease more time to spread before killing the host.
These days the topic of a potential bird flu pandemic is mainstream news. One major U.K. newspaper says that the recent outbreak of new human bird flu cases suggests that the danger of a pandemic is rising:
First the good news: bird flu is becoming less deadly. Now the bad: scientists fear that this is the very thing that could make the virus more able to cause a pandemic that would kill hundreds of millions of people.
Did you get that last part?
Hundreds of millions of people.
In fact, last year the U.K. government identified the bird flu as the biggest single threat facing the nation. The U.K. government's own estimate states that the bird flu has the potential to kill up to 750,000 U.K. citizens.
Some of the most troubling bird flu news has come out of Egypt recently. Three more human bird flu cases were reported there just last week. What is strange is that almost all of the recent cases there have been in children under the age of three.
The frightening thing is that these infections have been less deadly than usual. Normally the bird flu quickly kills over 50 percent of those infected. But every one of the Egyptians infected in 2009 are still alive.
That may sound like good news, but it is not. Victims that don't die or that die slowly are likely to spread the disease to many others. This could lead to a much, much higher death toll.
In fact, studies show that a potential bird flu pandemic that killed even 5 percent of those it infected could still cause hundreds of millions of deaths across the globe.
There are other disturbing signs that a bird flu pandemic may be approaching. The Austrian branch of U.S. vaccine maker Baxter is under close scrutiny by health officials for sending a mixture of H3N2 seasonal human flu and unlabelled H5N1 bird flu to other unsuspecting labs around Europe.
Fortunately, a lab in the Czech Republic that received one of these batches tested it on some ferrets. All of the ferrets died, which they were not supposed to do, so they alerted Baxter. You see, ferrets do not die from human H3N2 flu. Further testing confirmed that the sample which the lab in the Czech Republic received contained live H5N1 bird flu virus.
The big unanswered question is how in the world human H3N2 and avian H5N1 viruses somehow became co-mingled. Investigators are so far baffled as to how the company could have been so incredibly negligent as to have allowed human flu and bird flu to have gotten mixed together like that.
The reality is that an accidental release of a mixture of live H5N1 and H3N2 viruses to the public could have triggered a devastating pandemic.
How bad could things have gotten if this had gotten out into the public?
The Toronto Sun explains it this way:
While H5N1 doesn’t easily infect people, H3N2 viruses do. If someone exposed to a mixture of the two had been simultaneously infected with both strains, he or she could have served as an incubator for a hybrid virus able to transmit easily to and among people.
Some are even suggesting that Baxter may have had a profit motive in all of this. If bird flu did start spreading among humans, it would create an overnight demand for bird flu vaccines which Baxter makes. The profits that Baxter International would reap during such a panic would be enormous.
If the scientific community is not more careful they might end up being the ones unleashing a bird flu pandemic by accident. For example, nine health workers are on trial in northern Poland for testing a bird flu vaccine on nearly 200 poor and homeless patients without their knowledge. The allegations state that these health workers told their patients that they were being vaccinated against ordinary seasonal flu. Many of the patients ended up dying from the bird flu.
Now who in the world would be stupid enough to infect almost 200 poor and homeless people and let them wander around and pass it to others?
Disturbing reports of bird flu activity have been popping up all across the globe recently, and the reality is that if H5N1 does transition into a form that is easily transmissible from human to human then we will have a problem of unimaginable proportions on our hands.
You better get ready.