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Monday, September 19, 2005

New bird flu reports predict economic collapse

Updated 9/19/05 at 3:25 pm

A new article in the Independent reports on two studies, one done by Nottingham University and the other by the Bank of Montreal in Canada, which each predict a "'catastrophic' economic crash in Britain and around the world, unprecedented in modern times" as a result of even a moderate bird flu outbreak. The Independent says:
The study used a giant computer model of the British economy. It found that even a relatively mild pandemic, with 50,000 deaths, would cut Britain's GDP by a staggering 8 per cent or £95bn, cost 941,000 jobs, and "affect every aspect of life in Britain".
Meanwhile, bird flu continues to spread. The Guardian reports new animal cases at the Jakarta Zoo, where two thirds of animals sampled tested positive for the infection. Indonesian doctors report four new likely human cases as well, including two more children. Some analysis of the bird infections can be found here. As a result, officials have shut down the zoo and declared an "extroadinary incident," a bureaucratic condition that signals increased government attention to the matter. Only ten miles away from the zoo, one student has died and dozens have been infected with a "mystery illness" that apparently has plagued a whole neighborhood. A new AFP article offers some basic information, but not much new.

Recombinomics has some analysis suggesting that the World Health Organization is ignoring signs of human to human spreading of avian flu. In his commentary on the site, Dr. Henry L Niman contends that WHO is undercounting the human infections in families, which obscures cases of human to human transmission. He says,
...words of assurance are issued to the press and official counts bury the human-to-human transmissions and maintain a pandemic stage 3 when clearly the level is at 4 or 5 and will soon be phase 6.
Phase 6 is the highest and final phase of a pandemic.

On the treatment side, the WHO says it will not push the Swiss drug firm Roche Holding AG to allow a generic and cheaper version of its drug oseltamivir, otherwise known as Tamiflu. The drug is the only proven treatment for bird flu and Roche obviously hopes to make a lot of money on it. This poses obvious problems for those countries and people who cannot afford the drug, especially since the outbreak, when it comes, will almost certainly occur in a poor country. It will come as no surprise then that rich countries have begun stockpiling Tamiflu and other drugs (including an unproven, experimental vaccine) while most poor countries in Asia, where two of the last three flu pandamics have originated, have none or very limited amounts.

Pandemic planning is being hindered by poor farmers, who receive little or no compensation for any birds culled by authorities.
"Fear that their flocks might be culled without compensation is a pretty strong disincentive to report an outbreak," said [Dr Shigeru] Omi at the opening of the UN agency's western Pacific conference in Noumea.


Blogger DWM said...

First, I think bird flu is a seriuos issue that should be discussed transparently by all nations, especially the ones likely to be effected the most. However, giving shallow statistics about possible economic collapse does little to prevent a pandemic or inform the public.

Of course economies would suffer. That would be caused by any natural disaster, including a large earthquake in California, another tsunmai, or hurricanes. But unduly linking economic collapse with the bird flu prompts unnecessary fear, which leads to unnecessary panic.

The fact is the liklihood of a pandemic is slim. Some scientists are falsly comparing bird flu inevitability to hurricanes and other common disasters.

Lets say, worse case scenario, the disease does mutate and infects humans, what is the evidence that it will spread throughout the world? The same fearmongering researchers point to the Spanish Flu of 1918 in which 50 million people were tragically killed and over 100 million were infected. The conditions during the spread of the diease were much different than they are today. Lets not forget the conditions of World War I and how many soliders were crammed in fox holes and travelling great distances. In addition, people of the world were under tremendous stress thus decreasing immune capabilities. Thirdly, hygene practices throughout the world were much worse by todays standards.

I advise not to encourage the "end of days" mentality proporgated by the media and some people in the science community. but instead remain focused and devise a clear understanding of the "potential" harm of H5N1 and to find suitable solutions.

Besides, I spent all of my savings on canned food during Y2K, and on duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect me from nuclear fallout; I have nothing but cynicism left.

Tue Nov 01, 03:15:00 PM 2005  

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