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Bird Flu Without the Birds?

July 13, 2007

348182935_d9321cf1c5 An Aussie newspaper has a report out of France that the latest death in Indonesia from highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza could be unique. It’s my understanding that just about every documented case of this type of avian flu in humans is correlated with proximity to fowl. Basically, the family kept chickens, or the person works on a poultry farm, or they just ate a chicken dinner last week.

This eight six-year-old boy girl, though, has not been associated with fowl as of yet. According to Memed Zulkarnaen, director of the agriculture ministry’s bird flu unit, no infected poultry had been found within 300 yards of the boy’s girl’s home. Officials note that it’s too early to tell if the boy girl was infected because of contact with an infected person. They are still checking if the boy girl may have contracted the disease from a recent trip.

By definition, pandemic occurs when, among other things, a disease spreads easily and sustainably among the human population. Should no animal vector be found to explain the infection, one would have to begin to worry about transmissibility between humans. And with Indonesia being the most highly infected nation, one would then worry about the relatively large reservoir of disease that could pick up the genetic mutation that caused the transmission. If it’s happened once, it can happen again.

My gut tells me (and I hope my gut is better at divination than Secretary Chertoff’s) that this will amount to nothing. A recent trip to a provincial zoo will end up being the culprit. But you can see how quickly this could spiral out of control. It’s now been nearly seven days since the boy girl died and almost two weeks since he contracted the disease, and the first report came out yesterday.

The only way to catch up to this thing is with modern disease surveillance, but how do you do that when your population lives shoulder to shoulder in the mud and squalor, punctuated only by shacks and chickens?

Photo credit: *~Laura~*

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2007 7:39 am

    human to human has already happened. They are looking at vectors like mice, cats and houseflies… yes houseflies.

    We are so screwed.

  2. July 16, 2007 7:44 am

    John: You remind me of the purported case of close H2H transmission (the Karo cluster). The mother of the family fell ill after using fowl manure in her garden. Six other families members fell sick between eight and ten days after the mother began exhibiting symptoms. All (except one) cared closely for her.

    I wonder about the confirmation of H2H in this case because the mother was the sole breadwinner in the house, a house that had resident chickens and food planted in fowl manure. The other family members may have gotten infected from the mother shedding disease, but can you rule out that no one else in the family tended garden in those eight to ten days? No one else slaughtered one of the chickens? I’m not saying that the Karo cluster IS NOT a case of H2H, but I have always been suspect of very close intra-familial disease spread in extremely poor and highly rural areas. Someone has to take over the job of the person who got sick, and thus expose themselves the same agent that got the first person sick. I will say, however, that in this case, the father of the 10-year-old nephew might be cause for concern – but still, if your sister was deathly sick and her children were starving, wouldn’t you go to help out?

    More information on the cluster can be found here: .

    And thanks for stopping by!


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