What is the Risk of a Human Influenza Pandemic?
A pandemic can be broadly described as a massive epidemic. It occurs on a much greater scale than an epidemic, spreading around the world and affecting many hundreds of thousands of people across many countries.
Experts are concerned that the virus could adapt, giving it greater affinity for humans. Or that it could exchange genes with a human flu virus, thereby producing a completely new virus strain capable of spreading easily between people, and causing a pandemic. By necessity, if a new strain were to occur then few people, if any, would have a natural immunity to it.
7. What Can I Do to Protect Myself and my Family?
There is some evidence that recent H5N1 viruses are susceptible to a class of antiviral drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors.
The UK Government is expanding its stockpile of antiviral drugs against the contingency of a flu pandemic, whether due to an H5N1 or another new strain. On 1 March 2005, the Health Secretary announced the procurement of 14.6 million treatment courses of the antiviral, Tamiflu – enough to treat a quarter of the UK population.
Individuals can purchase Tamiflu privately. The manufacturer, Roche, is working hard to supply what is required. World-wide demand, however, has increased dramatically recently and there may be shortages.
8. Is a Vaccine Currently Available for Bird Flu?
The present position is that there is no vaccine for bird flu.
There are, however, several potential vaccines at various stages of testing and production. Whether these will be suitable for use against a new pandemic flu strain depends on how much the pandemic strain may have mutated and changed from the original H5N1 virus strain used to create the vaccine.
9. What is the Advice for Travellers?
Travellers to areas experiencing outbreaks of the disease in poultry are recommended to avoid contact with live animal markets and poultry farms.
Travellers should not attempt to bring any live birds or poultry products back to their own country.
10. How Can I Keep up-to-date With Bird Flu Matters?
The following organisations have sections on avian influenza which provide useful and regularly updated information:
Health Protection Agency
World Health Organization
UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Bird flu has the potential to be the basis of an influenza pandemic. The experts are predicting that there will be a pandemic, although it is not possible to say when it will occur.
The message is to be alert and be aware of the advice being given by your government.