Bird Flu Preparation and Protection

Human Flu or Influenza sounds too common to alarm anyone, but if it is BIRD FLU, the situation becomes appalling from virtue of the fact that the virus is highly fatal for humans and it mutates over time into various forms thereby, making vaccination and treatment difficult. Hence only hope lies in preparation for it is said that Prevention is better than cure! Mankind has seen 3 deadly pandemics in history which left millions dead across the globe.

A White House document, titled National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza (NSPI) says so, “A pandemic, or worldwide outbreak of a new influenza virus, could … overwhelm our health and medical capabilities, potentially resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of hospitalizations and hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs.” This gives us an idea of where we stand in terms of preparedness. The very fact that the virus keeps changing genetically makes it impossible to develop a foolproof vaccine against avian flu.

Another very important factor in flu’s spread which is worth considering is the quote by Kofi Annan, ex-UN Secretary General, “Once human-to-human transmission has been established, we will have only a few weeks to lock down the spread before it spins out of control!” At current levels of international human traffic, a localized epidemic can escalate into a global pandemic. Hence a lock down or isolation zones needs to be created wherein humans and food products from infected regions are not allowed to be transported across countries.

The preventive measures as of now consist mostly of advisories and guidelines to be followed by people and governments across the risk prone countries. Amazingly rapid advances in the field of pharmaceuticals and genetics are being made to come up with a foolproof strategy for development and deployment of vaccines against bird flu.

WHO issues regular advisories to warn travellers coming and going across flu prone areas or infected countries and people directly involved like poultry farmers, health workers, doctors, etc. of the risks involved. Precautionary measures are published across mass media in most of the countries by the governments to make people aware of the effects of Avian Flu and the guidelines to prevent it.

World Health Organization has come up with strategies for information gathering and dissemination with its bird flu operations spreading across about 82 countries with hundreds of centers, their primary aim being surveillance and rapid confirmation of suspected cases. WHO issues a list of most common suspected virus types which might strike that particular year. The vaccine development and production programs across the world follow these reports.

Some countries and agencies have started stockpiling of vaccines (like oseltamivir) effective against the most common H5N1 bird flu virus. In developing countries the major focus has been on community preparation and involving multiple agencies beyond health departments into the planning processes against bird flu, like non-governmental organizations, law, education, tourism industry, agriculture sector, etc. Training activities and pandemic simulation exercises are designed and taken up.

Unfortunately for us there are no unfailing measures which we can count on. As the virus keeps changing genetically we are unable to have pre-made accurate vaccines against it. Immunization is out of question for the same reason. Hence the only surest hope today is to know the disease and prevent its infection. In case of infections in poultry containment is done by mass killing the birds. And in cases of humans the infected region should be locked down, monitored and suspicious cases kept isolated to prevent the spread of flu. Hygiene and disinfection using even casual methods like washing and following general cleanliness guidelines at home can reduce the chances of flu infection by 99%. Preventing human exposure to diseased humans and animals is the key to prevention..