Flu pandemic could kill 50,000 Brits, or even more, Sir Liam Donaldson says
Sir Liam said he is doubtful the pandemic will hit this winter. However, he said experts are no longer talking about if, they are talking about when a pandemic strikes.
British laboratories confirmed yesterday that the infected ducks in Romania were carrying the deadly H5N1 bird fly strain. UK scientists are now trying to verify whether they are linked to the virus found in Turkey.
Sir Liam said current vaccines will not be effective against a new mutated virus strain. A new strain, the one that everyone fears will come, will be transmissible from human-to-human. At the moment humans can only catch bird flu from a bird. There have been some isolated cases of health professionals catching it from a patient - but constant exposure is needed. At the moment the bird flu virus does not easily pass from human-to-human.
If/when a new strain appears, it would be a race against time to get a new vaccine. Flu pandemics tend to spread incredibly fast around the planet. The pandemic of 1918 (Spanish Flu) spread around the world in less than a year, and that was when people did not travel nearly as much as they do today.
Sir Liam said the UK government is working on a projected 50,000 deaths in the UK. He added that the new strain could be a very virulent one that might kill many more people.
It is crucial, say health officials, to vaccinate people against normal flu. The risk is that the bird flu virus, if it infected a person who has normal flu, would then exchange genes with the normal flu virus, and then mutate so that it could spread easily among the human population (jump from human-to-human). The fewer the number of people with normal flu, the less likely the bird flu virus has the opportunity to exchange genes and mutate.
The only antiviral drug available today to treat people with bird flu is called Tamiflu. Researchers in Japan report that there have been cases of resistance to Tamiflu. A girl in Vietnam who had bird flu was treated with Tamiflu and recovered. However, if the virus is building resistance, all doctors can currently do is increase the dose. If the resistance continues to increase, the drug could become ineffective.
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