Newspapers are flooded with maps of bird migration routes, explanations and analysis, but reports on bird flu vary so much that no-one is sure of the real threat…
The viral spread of avian or bird flu occurs when the combination of the normal flu and the avian virus exists at the same time.
The greatest fear now is that the new H5N1 strain can be transmitted from birds to humans from faeces droppings, and then from human-to-human.
It is not known for sure if the virus is transmitted from migratory wild birds.
Scientists believe that one species of bird may contain the virus but has a natural immunity to it. When they come into contact with other birds, the virus is transmitted to them.
Many birds have been found dead not because they are the transmitters but because they lack immunity to the virus.
The real problem now lies in finding original carriers. First, scientists need to find the carrier in order to know how to stop the virus from spreading. In the meantime, there are cross-border controls stopping the flow of live produce into Germany from Romania where a strain of the virus was recently found.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has said that the virus spread from Siberia and may carry the virus to the Caspian and Black Sea.
These regions are a gateway to central Europe. Migratory patterns also run across Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine and some Mediterranean countries.
FAO also is concerned that India and Bangladesh seems to be uninfected, but may be at risk because India harbours a large number of domestic ducks and is along one of the major migratory routes.
FAO also states that “the bird flu has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003 and more than 140 million birds have died or been slaughtered.”
In Italy between 1999-2001, the H7N1 virus mutated within nine months to a highly pathogenic form and more than 13 million birds died or were destroyed.
Between April and June 2005, more than 6,000 migratory birds died due from H5N1 at the Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve in Qinghai Province, China.
There are estimates that up to 50 million people can be killed by the virus with 50,000 in Ireland and the UK alone.
World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman on influenza, Dick Thompson, told a news conference in Geneva that between two million and 7.4 million people could die in a BBC article entitled: ‘Bird Flu could kill up to 150 million people.’
There is confusion over estimates of possible human deaths. Either news outlets do not want to create widespread panic, or the pandemic researchers don’t really know what they’re up against.
If the latter is true, then how to we attempt to halt the spread of the virus?
Scotland’s attempt to stifle the spread of bird flu is by developing an emergency plan for health and security. They have decided that the health boards will have the power to request on the spot medical examinations and could force people to be detained in hospitals under quarantine.
Authorities there could forbid individuals from going to and from work and stop children from attending school if it is believed they have been exposed to the virus.
The Netherlands are establishing a month-long quarantine on domestic birds being allowed to roam outdoors.
France is preparing 14 million doses of anti-flu drugs to be available by 2006 and is stockpiling 200 million protective face masks; 50 million masks have already been delivered to French hospitals.
On Monday, the virus reached Greece, which is banning exports of live poultry and other poultry products.
Croatia, Macedonia and Bulgaria are testing possible virus cases. The virus has been located in Turkey where 50 turkeys fell sick and died on Monday, and another 100 died the next day.
So far, 5,000 turkeys have been killed in Turkey. To calm the situation and the concern for the spread of global panic, British foreign secretary Jack Straw chaired an emergency meeting of the EU in Luxembourg reminding everyone that “to date there is no evidence of any transfer of the virus to human beings.”