Tick. Tick. Tick.
We are in a race. We are in a race against a fast moving virulent virus with the potential to cause an influenza pandemic. In November when President Bush announced the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus was confirmed in birds in 16 countries. It was known to have infected 122 people and 62 ‘” half of those infected ‘” died.
Today, four months later, H5N1 has spread to 37 nations on three continents; 175 people have been infected and 96 of them have died. To date, most of those people were exposed to infected poultry. Fortunately, there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease, but the rapid spread of H5N1 is reason for concern.
We are in a race, a race against a quick changing virus, for H5N1 has not only spread, it has evolved. There are now two main variants, or clades, of H5N1 and it is this second, newer clade that is spreading across western Asia into Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This second clade has killed over 60 percent of those it is known to have infected.
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