Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bird flu in China

A woman in China died from the H5N1 virus (bird flu). She had been butchering poultry and came into contact with a bird infected with the virus. Chinese officials were quick to point out they found no further incidence of infection. The death was first caused by infection from the virus in China in over a year. The woman had been butchering a duck, which tends to have a higher incidence of infection. The fact this story received little coverage isn’t surprising. Bird flu has been covered and predicted for several years but with only isolated cases of death (usually in Southeastern Asia) occurring people have developed a fatigue over the whole issue. The collapsing economy is far more concerning and is having an immediate impact on all of us.

Now comes a study from the University of Colorado showing the increased resistance of the H5N1 virus to prophylaxis that had previously proven to be effective. Through a genetic-swapping process known as re-assortment, the virus is able to sustain itself by gradually exchanging proteins that are affected by the vaccine with those that are not. The virus has not show the ability to infect human to human and certainly would need to be able to sustain such an infection in order to become a pandemic. According to the researchers, the virus has not shown an increased resistance to Tamiflu.

“If we use drugs that may be effective for humans prematurely on non-humans, it could undermine our responses to a future flu pandemic,” said Andrews Hill, the lead researcher, referencing evidence linking viral resistance to Chinese farmers adding adamantanes (used in treating Influenza A) to chicken feed as a flu preventative.

“If Tamiflu is ever used in the manner of adamantanes, we could conceivably see a similar resistance developing through positive selection.”

An outbreak in the next few years would be devastating. The economy is already on the verge of collapsing and the additional loss of 40 percent of the remaining workforce could be a lethal one-two combination.

The doomsday scenario of a possible pandemic influenza pales in comparison to today’s economic outlook. ALCOA furloughed 13 percent of their workforce. Considering how many different corporations use aluminum in their manufacturing process, the full impact of the economic situation becomes apparent when ALCOA (the nation’s largest aluminum producer) has to lay off so many workers. But it is because of the economic situation that we need to be prepared. Private sector and public sector agencies are being forced to reduce their workforce and services. It will fall on private citizens to be vigilant and prepared for the eventuality of a pandemic flu.

In preparing your family and home, I suggest ordering a copy of the Home Emergency Guide from Informed Guide (a link to their website appears on the left). I had ordered several different guides to use at the college. The Home Emergency Guide is easy to follow but very comprehensive in the subjects covered. The publisher, Informed, was started by a paramedic out in Oregon. Other medical professionals joined the company and have partnered to produce some excellent field guides for fire, EMS, homeland security, HAZMAT and home emergency. If you haven’t really sat down to develop your own home emergency plan, this field guide is a great tool to help you get started.

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