The UK Home Office is considering the use of mass graves as a worse case scenario measure if a flu pandemic strikes. According to a confidential report seen by the Sunday Times, 320,000 people in Great Britain could die as a result of a flu pandemic originating from a mutated H5N1 bird flu virus strain.

Such a death toll would overwhelm the country’s burial services, resulting in burial and cremation delays of up to four months. A cabinet committee quoted the Great Plague burial pits used during the seventeenth century.

The report claims local authorities in Great Britain could probably bury and cremate about 48,000 people (who died of flu) over a period of three months. It adds that a 320,000 death toll would push back burial and cremation schedules by around 17 weeks.

A pandemic death rate of 2.5% would overwhelm burial and cremation services, says the report.

Experts are convinced the H5N1 bird flu virus strain will mutate. The question now is not ?if’, it is ?when’. However, it is most likely the mutated virus will not be as deadly for humans as it is at the moment.

Humans are not easily infected with the H5N1 virus strain. New research has indicated that this is because the virus has to make its way deep down into the lower respiratory tract (deep in the lung) to make the person ill. In order to infect a person, that person must be surrounded with huge numbers of the virus – be surrounded by infected birds for a long time – for it to have a chance to get deep down into the lungs and infect. Even if a person does get infected, his/her coughs and sneezes will expel hardly any H5N1s (because they will be too deep down) – making it virtually impossible for one human to infect another human.

For the H5N1 to mutate so that it can spread from human to human, it will, most likely, have to learn how to infect the upper-respiratory tract (nearer the throat). Then coughs and sneezes will expel many more of the virus. However, infection of the upper-respiratory tract is much easier to treat. In other words, a mutated virus will probably not be as virulent (deadly, potent).

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today