October 05, 2005. Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger of the US Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and other scientists have just published papers in Science and Nature demonstrating that the 1918 virus was an avian virus in origins.
"We now think that the best interpretation of the data available to us is that the 1918 virus was an entirely avian-like virus that adapted to humans," Taubenberger told reporters in a telephone briefing.
"It suggests that pandemics can form in more than one way." http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/003027.html
Culling birds in Asia Over the last few years hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks have been destroyed in China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand etc in an attempt to eliminate this avian virus. Despite these efforts, reports continue of new (though not necessarily widespread) outbreaks.
Go West, Young Virus. Recent reports establish its arrival in Europe, at least Greece, Romania, Bulgaria (Turkey too.) Oh, yes, and now the UK. Indication: It's getting around.
The West Now Exporting The Virus? Australia is now banning live bird imports from Canada. A shipment of racing pigeons were found to contain bird flu antibodies. (This would indicate MBE ( Migratory Bird Effect: birds from Asia and Siberia infecting species in Canada which in turn can infect elsewhere.) http://edition.cnn.com/2005/HEALTH/conditions/10/21/birdflu.australia.canada.reut Yes, it is getting around. (No reports yet of the viral infection in USA. How long do you think that will last?)
Contingencies Reports of London expanding morgue facilities and capabilities, just in case
Quarantine Dilemnas How to enforce quarantines in today's highly-populated very "global" world where everybody is going everywhere at unprecedented speeds? (The 1918 disaster spread globally before the era of air travel made spreading so much easier.) New Zealand considers a plan for quarantining all air and sea arrivals---but would it even be logistically possible? And if not for an island country that size, what about other countries?
On the other hand (if you think there is another hand):
The surprise factor. Has there ever been a great calamity or catastrophe with so much advanced 'promotion'? Normally you don't see it coming. It hits more like an earthquake than a post-graduate course in epidemiology. This is true for man-made disasters(like Pearl Harbor, 9.11 ) or natural ones like the 1918 flu and smallpox epidemics (during the Revolutionary War 125,000 died of smallpox, approximately five times more fatalities than among Washington's war casualties). The Black Death (from infected rats in Genoese ships returning from Asia ) wiped out over 1/3 of 14th Century Europe). Who saw it coming? The nightmarish 5th Century B.C. Plague in Athens during the Peloponnesian War (the infection was believed, said Thucydides, to originate in Egypt or Ethiopia). Who saw any of these coming?
Today, of course, the great concern is whether the H5N1 virus will mutate to a trans-species form, jumping from birds to humans who will then infect other humans. To date, there is no indisputable proof that this can happen, or is likely to happen or will happen. So far, well under 100 humans have died from avian flu (if you trust the stats) and all in Asia. All, or most, died from contact with the wrong chickens.
Besides Vietnam and Thailand, the experts are paying close attention to Indonesia (while hoping that China reports honestly about itself.) UN bureaucrats sound more optimistic, others less so. Troubling signs of "clustering" in Indonesia, where more than one member of a family shows symptoms in a few reported cases (so far.) A population of 100 million, many of them living with chickens, scattered on hundreds of islands, could be quite an "incubator." But you don't know. I don't know. And nobody else really knows. The variables are still endless, and can make for endless reading, sometimes very interesting.
As for the oft-cited pandemic of 1918, evolutionary biologist Paul E. Ewald says that such a threat today is "essentially non-existent." That is because the high virulence and high transmissibility were spawned by the unique conditions of war-weary millions on the Western Front in WWII.
Why panic? There'll be a wave of it when the first confirmed case of bird flu in the USA is reported and the networks can ride the "this could be bigger than Hurrican Katrina" effect. Poultry sales will plummet. Cries of "Where's my Tamiflu?" or liberals shouting "Why doesn't Bush have a vaccine for us?" will rock the land. This will subside as the next news cycle returns to Karl Rove or Tom DeLay or Bush's Supreme Court debacle, or the fact that 2000 Americans who volunteered for the military have died in Iraq while over 50,000 non-volunteer Americans died in traffic accidents.
Meanwhile, the thing to watch for: Are people catching this virus from other people?
So far, the signs are more or less negligible. As long as they remain neglible, there is not going to be a global pandemic, only chatter.
Of course, if they don't remain negligible, you might want to reconsider your travel plans and what to shop for before the rush to survival mode.