Bird Flu, SARS, and Public Health

A six-year-old boy in Thailand has died from bird flu, along with seven others in southeast Asia whose deaths have been confirmed to have been caused by this avian flu. Although a deadly epidemic is percolating in flocks of chickens and ducks, vigorous public health efforts may still be able to prevent a contagious form of this flu from jumping into the human population. This virus is almost 100 percent lethal in birds and has killed millions of birds in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan. So far, it has affected only a few humans who have had direct contact with the birds.

But the longer it percolates, the higher the risk that a contagious form arises in humans. Government cooperation is needed to be open and honest about avian flu in their countries and to cull infected flocks and reimburse farmers. This investment now could result in big savings of money and lives. The World Health Organization considers this virus a major global threat and is responding actively. Unlike with SARS, there is already an effective diagnostic test and effective, albeit costly, treatment available.

Published on: January 27, 2004
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Photo of Dr. Alan Greene
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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