Planet News Views

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Avian Flu Worst Case Scenario 16 Million U.S. Deaths Says Insurance Information Institute

By Scott McLean

Avian flu could cause 16 million deaths under a worst-case scenario, according to an Insurance Information Institute study made public Tuesday.

In a little more than two years time, 147 people were infected with the virus and 78 died, the research shows. These bird flu cases all occurred in six countries.


Presently, there is no solid proof of bird flu that bird flu can be spread by people. But the study seems to indicate that the virus could spread from person to person. When the World Health Organization or some other recognized health agency releases solid information to that effect, then people need to really pay attention. At this point panic would be the wrong thing to do.

In recent years health professionals were concerned about the possible spread of SARS, Mad Cow Disease and other viruses. As it turned out those diseases did not become a major worldwide threat. Bird flu just might fall in that category as well.

Right now the smartest course of action is for people in affected countries to take sensible precautions, especially not handling wild birds and to keep children and weak people including the elderly away from birds altogether.

Some of the recent cases that ended tragically were of children who touched or played with diseased birds.

In many of the countries where people live close to the land, Asia and Eastern Europe in particular, ownership of chickens for meat and eggs is common. The eggs of quail, for example, are considered very tasty in Ukraine.

It's commonplace to see fresh meats and eggs sold at bazaars and on more than an occasion one might walk past quail in cages on the street next to vegetables for sale. A few years ago while visiting Ukraine, I shopped at many bazaars. And my hope is that their health laws have become stricter regarding the way they sell meat and eggs.

Health standards in these countries must be elevated now that Avian flu is a threat. These measures will undoubtedly pass on new costs to consumers in these poor countries, but without precautions the number of deaths will likely increase.

At the same time United States and international health agencies need to come up with an effective vaccine and continue to track and report their findings on new cases and how the flu was contracted.

Should the bird flu mutate into a strain that can spread from person to person, tough measures to contain the disease would become necessary. That is a worse-case scenary we hope will never take place.


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