The Next Killer Flu
Quotes like the following do give one pause:
Of course, this is another of those things like comet strikes and super volcanos, in that there isn't particularly a lot one can do about it in advance aside from getting a lot of wipes, sanitizer, and maybe surgical masks before there's a run on them!To most of us, flu is a nuisance disease, an annual hassle endured along with taxes and dentists. Some people think a flu shot isn't worth the bother. But flu is easy to underestimate. The virus spreads so easily via tiny droplets that 30 million to 60 million Americans catch it each year. Some 36,000 die, mostly the elderly. It mutates so fast that no one ever becomes fully immune, and a new vaccine has to be made each year.
That's ordinary flu. But the disease that is taking lives in Southeast Asia is no ordinary flu. Its primary victims have been chickens, more than a hundred million of them, killed either by the virus or in often futile control efforts. It's not unusual for chickens to get flu; in fact, avian-flu viruses far outnumber human ones. But Robert Webster of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis has studied flu viruses for 40 years and has never seen the likes of the one that killed Ngoan.
"This virus right from scratch is probably the worst influenza virus, in terms of being highly pathogenic, that I've ever seen or worked with," Webster says. Not only is it frighteningly lethal to chickens, which can die within hours of exposure, swollen and hemorrhaging, but it kills mammals from lab mice to tigers with similar efficiency. Here and there people have come down with it too, catching it from infected poultry like the chickens that died on Ngoan's farm a few days before she fell ill. Half the known cases have died.