Tuesday, August 16, 2011

World too complacent on bird flu

Last week, Egyptian officials reported to the World Health Organization that a 6-year-old girl was successfully treated for avian influenza, which she is suspected to have contracted as a result of exposure to diseased poultry. A week earlier Cambodian officials confirmed that a 4-year-old girl from a farming village in that country died of avian influenza after being exposed to an infected chicken. According to World Health Organization statistics, these girls are the 563rd and 564th humans to be infected with bird flu, and the Cambodian girl was the 330th to die of it.

Most remarkable about these cases are just how unremarkable it has become to learn that bird flu has jumped the species barrier. When it first became apparent that avian influenza took a human life in Hong Kong in 1997, it was big news. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mobilized experts to conduct an on-site investigation. WHO officials went into crisis mode. And newspapers around the world reported on the events.

Since then, bird flu has become endemic among poultry in many countries, including China, Indonesia, Egypt and Vietnam, and it has killed nearly 60 percent of the humans it has infected. Nonetheless, the reports during the past two weeks of two recent infections and another death raised little concern except among public health officials.

The fact that bird flu in developing nations receives little public attention reveals that the world has become complacent about this threat. Not that we have been sitting idle. Countries have pledged more than $4 billion to combating bird flu since 2005, and developing nations have....

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