Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bird flu due in North America this fall

From all accounts, the avian influenza virus should cross into the "Western hemisphere" this fall on the wings of a migrating bird or two.

This past year has seen a rapid expansion of the bird flu into West Asia, Europe and Africa.

According to a U.N. report the bird flu shoud arrive with the fall snow goose migration into Canada and the United States. The most likely route will be across the Aleutian islands into Alaska.

Although some U.S. officials have discounted the impending arrival of the virus at least with regard to domestic poultry and people, there are some reasons to be alarmed.

Just going by the numbers, the greater the spread of the virus the more chances it has of mutating into a human-transmittable form. Genetic mutations are random events, so more infected birds means more viruses. Each time the virus multiplies, there is a chance of a mutation that could transmit among humans.

Also the variability of the virus increases as it is introduced into new species. The genetic region in the DNA where changes take place becomes more expansive as a result.

We would have to be very lucky for this not to become a human epidemic because of the vast reach of the virus. However, one hope is that this bird flu strain might not be as severe as the so-called Spanish Flu that hit during World War I.

Although the current disease contracted directly from birds is even significantly more deadly than the Spanish Flu, there is a chance that a mutation causing a human epidemic may produce a less virulent type. The impact would still be severe but not as catastrophic as in some well-publicized scenarios.

Bird Flu Will Reach U.S. and Canada This Fall, Experts Predict

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