Bird flu still world's most lethal threat

IF everyone thought the mutated human killer variant of bird flu had died a death over the last few months, you would have been totally wrong. All the following were recorded this month:

China – a father and son were diagnosed with the virus. 60 per cent of all infected have died.

Pakistan – for the first time in the history of Pakistan, bird flu was confirmed after two brothers died.

Indonesia – a man from an area west of Jakarta died from bird flu.

Poland – a fresh outbreak of the deadly H5N1 virus bird flu was discovery at two poultry farms.

Benin – the west African country recorded its first suspected cases of bird flu.

Russia – an outbreak of bird flu on a farm in southern Russia.

Saudi Arabia – the bird flu scare has gripped Saudi Arabia and forced the government to cull almost 4.5 million birds.

But the most disturbing news this week is that scientists have created the human killer virus in the lab. The dreaded H5N1 avian flu, as feared, finally mutated last August into a virulent form that can easily spread from person to person, increasing the likelihood of a pandemic that could kill hundreds of millions — much like 1918s infamous Spanish flu.

Luckily, this mutation was the creation of scientists at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the mutated strain lives — for now — only in petri dishes.

But it shows this is clearly on the horizon, for if it can be created in the lab, it is only a matter of time before it can replicate itself in the world at large.

As Greg Poland, of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, said, there has been a 28-fold increase in the number of times the deadly strain has jumped to humans, killing 60 percent of the people it has infected. Compare that with the Spanish flu, which wiped out only 2 to 20 per cent of its hosts but resulted in about 100 million deaths worldwide.

The only hope we have of stopping what could be the most devastating pandemic ever, is to adopt the strategy put forward by Professor Kennedy Short-ridge, the man who first identified that the virus had jumped to humans in 1997. Govern-ments have to back this strategy before it is too late.

Dr David Hill

World Innovation Foundation

Switzerland