Asian Flu threat underestimated

Dr. Keiji Fukuda an expert at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that the incident of the particularly lethal variation of influenza in Southeast Asia is probably far greater than has been reported so far.

An estimated 69 people, primarily in Vietnam, have contracted a type of influenza commonly referred to as bird flu since January 2004. The fatality rate among those reported to have the disease is about 70 percent. Fukuda suspects there are more cases and says all infectious diseases have cases that are milder and cases that are more severe, and the cases being seen right now are the severe cases. He was speaking to medical officials at a conference on immunization.

Health officials around the world are trying to monitor the virus closely because some flu pandemics are believed to have originated with birds, and the avian flu virus occurs naturally in birds. Wild birds carry it in their intestines but usually do not get sick from it. However, the virus is contagious, and domesticated birds can become quite sick and die when they come in contact with it. Scientists believe that most of the people who have contracted the disease have done so through contact with sick or dead birds. The bird flu does not transmit easily between people, Fukuda said, but there is the possibility that eventually could happen. in 1918 a flu pandemic killed an estimated 500,000 people in the United States and the average life expectancy of the nation's citizens dropped by 12 years.

The avian influenza now occurring in Southeast Asia has been deadly to people of all age groups, the healthy as well as the unhealthy, as there appears to be little immunity to the virus. It can have serious outcomes for anyone infected and often leads to lung damage and lung disease very quickly. Although U.S. officials are testing vaccines, if an outbreak of bird flu occurs, the best weapon would be quarantine because it often takes months to find a vaccine that works against a particular viral strain. Dr.Fukuda believes that the prospect that the bird flu could turn into the sort of pandemic that strikes thousands is unlikely but not impossible; he does believe concerns about the virus are warranted.

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