The Next Killer Flu — Can We Stop It?

Flu season is just around the corner once again. But this time, it may be coming disguised as a serial killer. There is deep concern that a new killer flu, nicknamed «Bird Flu,» may mix with ordinary flu and kill millions of people. This is how Robert Webster of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis characterizes this killer flu — and take note that Dr. Webster has been studying influenza for the past 40 years: «This virus right from scratch is probably the worst influenza virus, in terms of being highly pathogenic, that I’ve ever seen or worked with.» Public health experts, including those at the World Health Organization, fear a catastrophe. In preparation, the United States has ordered 2.3 million doses of an antiviral called «Tamiflu.» 2.3 million for a country of 300 million. However, the U.S. has decided to place all of its chips on an experimental vaccine, a vaccine that is based on an early seed of bird flu, which most experts agree has already mutated into something quite different, and that means when bird flu gets here, it may not respond to any vaccine. The most astonishing fact about this new bird flu virus is how much science doesn’t know about it. The mystery remains of how people get infected. Is it by breathing the air near feces? By eating duck meat? By touching? Nobody really knows. Meanwhile, health authorities continue to slaughter infected fowl, experiment with genetic variations, and run computer simulations on panic control. It’s clear that hospitals and first responders will be completely overwhelmed, as will mortuaries. If you aren’t afraid at this point, then take a moment to read the cover essay of the October 2005 issue of National Geographic. Study those photos. Analyze those tables and charts. Then ask yourself, what are the odds that a killer virus will hit my home town, my family this flu season? Right now, WHO says the odds are 10% the killer will pick you.

Comments are closed.