Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Slow, Inevitable Marches On

Bird Flu Found in Italy, Greece, Bulgaria

Associated Press Writer

February 12, 2006, 6:24 AM EST

ROME -- Bird flu has reached Western Europe, with Italy and Greece announcing Saturday they had detected the H5N1 strain of the virus in dead swans.

The announcement that the disease was detected in five swans in southern Italy came a day after the opening of the Winter Games in Turin, several hundred miles to the north. Italian officials said the virus had only affected wild birds and posed no immediate risk to people.

The European Union said the deadly strain, which has infected at least 166 people and killed 88, most in Asia, also had been confirmed in swans in Bulgaria.

No human infections were reported in the three countries, but the outbreak raised concerns that the spread of the disease could increase chances for it to mutate into a form easily transmissible among humans, who generally catch the disease from domestic poultry.

"It's a relatively safe situation for human health; less so for animal health," Italian Health Minister Francesco Storace said.

Also Saturday, authorities in Nigeria said they were investigating whether the deadly strain, which was discovered in the country last week, had spread to humans after at least two children were reported ill.

The U.N.'s chief bird flu expert said the spread of bird flu, which has been ravaging poultry stocks across Asia since 2003, increased the chance that the virus would mutate into a form transmitted between humans and set off a pandemic. Most human deaths from the disease so far have been linked to contact with infected birds.
I'd go one step farther and say that this spread has guaranteed its mutation to a form that will spread rapidly through the mammalian population. In fact, Ed Bremson reports that we are only one or two mutations away from a full-on mammalian flu.

The spread has sped up in the past several weeks, with new outbreaks in new areas reported weekly, as migratory birds find shelter from the northern winters (and even more overwintering birds like geese and swans flee the terrible cold that mid- and east Europe has suffered through. More on that in another article.)

Once it reaches America (only a matter of time now,) the way we raise poultry is going to have a significant impact on how quickly the virus spreads among birds. And since we cram fowl into tiny pens, we're almost signing a death warrant for mass numbers of chickens and ducks and turkeys. And possibly humans.

Too, while it does seem that this flu in its current form is exterminating birds, keep in mind that there are many many more who come in contact with it, who either don't come down with it, or don't die. Yet, we stuff our birds with so many antibiotics and chemicals, their immune systems are highly vulnerable to any disease we haven't injected them against.

Not going to be fun.