Skip to comments.Bird Flu 'Will Kill 50,000 People, But Not This Year' (UK)
Posted on 10/16/2005 5:58:25 PM PDT by blam
Bird flu 'will kill 50,000 people, but not this year'
By David Derbyshire
A bird flu pandemic would kill about 50,000 people in Britain but will not necessarily strike this winter, the Government's chief medical officer said yesterday.
Sir Liam Donaldson said that it was a question of "when, not if" the disease infecting birds in Asia and the fringes of eastern Europe mutated into a deadly form of human influenza.
Sir Liam: deaths could be higher than 50,000
The number of deaths in Britain could reach 750,000 if the human strain were particularly serious, although a lower figure was more realistic, he said.
In a typical year, influenza kills about 12,000 people in the UK, mostly the elderly and infirm. Sir Liam's comments came as the Government prepared to contact every GP in the country about the threat of a flu pandemic.
Officials are also revising contingency plans that could see schools closed and sporting events cancelled if the disease strikes.
The concerns surround a new strain of bird flu, called H5N1, which can pass directly from poultry to people. Since the first case in Hong Kong in 1997, there have been 117 confirmed cases of avian influenza crossing to people in Asia and 60 deaths.
Scientists are worried that the virus will mutate into a form that can be spread easily from person to person. Because the strain is new, no one has immunity - paving the way for the most serious pandemic for 35 years.
Fears over avian flu increased over the weekend with confirmation that samples from a bird in Romania had the H5N1 strain.
Sir Liam told BBC1's Sunday AM programme: "If we had a pandemic, the problem would be that our existing vaccines don't work against it, so we would have to develop a new vaccine, and people don't have natural immunity because it hasn't been around before.
"So the estimate that we are working to in the number of deaths is around 50,000 excess deaths from flu. But it could be a lot higher than that." Higher estimates of up to 750,000 death were "not impossible".
Until the bird flu virus mutates into a human-to-human form, scientists will be unable to develop an effective vaccine.
However, they are working on an experimental vaccine based on the H5N1 strain infecting birds. The Government is also trying to store 14 million doses of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu - enough to treat one in four people.
Asked about whether the problem would hit in the coming months Sir Liam said: "I think it is less likely that it will come this winter. The attention is focused in Europe because of these outbreaks."
Dr Martin Wiselka, consultant in infectious diseases at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said the figure of 50,000 deaths was a "complete guess".
"It could be worse, it could be better. I think initially it could be worse than that. When a new strain arrives it tends to be more virulent but then it slows down. The honest answer is we don't know."
Dr Wiselka agreed that the mutated strain was unlikely to arrive in Britain this winter.
they love predicting this every year, don't they?
Just change the name of the disease to the Next Big Thing (tm), and reissue the same talking points.
But there's no assurance that it will happen soon, and there's nothing anyone can really do to prevent it in any event.
So, it's just one of those things you hope doesn't happen anytime soon.
This is pure media hype.
I'm moving along ...
I thought you'd be interested to learn that you may not die this year from the flu.
Just for the sake of argument, let's say Bird Flu did not exist. How many people would die every year in The U.K.?
Met too. Here, visit my Invisible Rivers thread.