I’ve posted several times with updates on the risk of an avian flu pandemic. My goal has been to promote awareness, not panic, and I hope regular readers have found these to be informative. I know my efforts have had nothing to do with it, but the MSM is starting to pay more attention to a possible avian flu outbreak. Today’s StarTribune picked up an article from the New York Times reporting that scientists have reconstructed the 1918 Spanish Flu virus and determined that it was a bird flu strain. Experts have long thought this to be the case, but this finding confirms that and will help in the process of developing an effective vaccine.
Bush administration officials have been talking about pandemic flu preparedness for years, and they say they will soon release a pandemic flu plan, in the works for more than a year. Senate Democrats say that the administration is not doing enough, and they are writing their own bills that call for more spending and coordination.
President Bush this week asked the leaders of the world’s top vaccine manufacturers – Chiron, Sanofi-Aventis, Wyeth, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck – to come to the White House on Friday to discuss preparations for pandemic flu, said people with knowledge of the meeting who insisted on anonymity because the White House has not yet announced the meeting.
The research on the 1918 virus is directly applicable to current concerns, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a joint statement. “The new studies could have an immediate impact by helping scientists focus on detecting changes in the evolving H5N1 virus that might make widespread transmission among humans more likely,” they said.
In a related story, the Strib also looked at the potential impact of such a pandemic in Minnesota with projections of as many as 20,000 deaths within a short period of time:
If the dire predictions of an influenza pandemic come true, Minnesota’s health officials expect 1.25 million state residents to become infected.
In a matter of days, a surge of patients would overwhelm the hospital system. State government officials and hospitals, using emergency powers, would sort patients through triage, even moving them among regions of the state.
Still, each hospital bed in the state would have as many as five patients waiting to fill it, according to Minnesota emergency preparedness officials.
An estimated 20,000 people would die. And it would all happen in four to eight weeks.
Read the rest of the article to learn more about the plans that are being put into place to deal with this. The paper also had a sidebar about an upcoming international conference on coordinating responses to an outbreak.