With the BBC reporting a possible case of H5N1 found in a dead swan in Scotland (Only a few miles from me incidently) I thought I’d post a few thoughts I’ve been having.As yet it hasn’t been confirmed that this is a case of H5N1, but just of the same family of viruses.
As well as the undue panic ispired in some sections of the populations, some people appeared to have taken the opposite tack. “Pah!” they say, “A complete waste of time. They spend so much time focusing on brid flu and it will come to nothing, just like SARS. Its all unecessary fearmongering.” Now, I’m not about to deny that certain sections of the media have got carried away, but I will argue that health officials are taking a thoroughly sensible approach.
The treatment of bird flu (H5N1) by the world health organisation and other health officials is exactly as it should be. They have identified a virus that poses a possible threat in causing a global pandemic and are carefully monitoring its progress and studying mutations. This has two benefits, firstly it will allow a rapid response should the virus mutate or recombine with a human flu virus. A rapid response will hopefully contain an outbreak, reducing the need for vaccines and anti-virals, and will also help the deployment and development of drugs as necessary. Secondly, even if H5N1 never mutates, something else eventually will. The study of the spread of H5N1 will allow better prediction with regard to future outbreaks and also in identifying possible endemic viruses early in their life. This is especially relevant when it is realised that the 1918 flu virus began as a avian strain.
Of course, if the virus does mutate and the WHO is successful in containing the virus, then they will be accused of scaremongering and wasting time.
At the moment H5N1 hasn’t mutated, and so now it not the time to run around like headless chickens panicking. (A fault, partly, of the media) Conversely however there is a threat, and it is one worth monitoring. Even if this one doesn’t come to anything, one eventually will, and the more we can learn now the better.
I also wish to add that even without human risk, this virus is of concern to poultry farmers. (Foot and mouth for example harmed the livestock industry and posed no threat whatsoever to humans.)