Update on the bird flu scenario

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that a 10-year-old girl in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi is the latest human victim of H5N1 avian influenza.

Apparently the girl developed symptoms of fever and cough on November 23, followed by pneumonia and is being treated in hospital.

The H5N1 avian flu virus, which is endemic in poultry in most of Asia, has killed 69 people since late 2003, and several countries in the region are regularly reporting more suspected cases in people and outbreaks in poultry.

Millions of birds both wild and domestic have been culled in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

The WHO gives the confirmed human cases of bird flu listed as follows:-

 

Deaths

Survivors

Cambodia

4

4

China

2

4

Indonesia

8

13

Thailand

13

21

Vietnam

42

93

It usually takes a day or two to confirm if someone has H5N1, and more detailed testing by government laboratories or those affiliated with the WHO can take a week or more.

It is worth remembering that the H5N1 virus remains primarily a virus of birds, and the fear at present is that it could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person and sweep the world, killing millions within weeks or months.

To date there is no evidence that has happened, and most human cases can be traced to direct or indirect contact with infected birds.

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