Confused about the flu?
You may have heard about the recent death from the AH5N1 (Avian or Bird Flu) in Alberta. The person had fallen ill while returning from a trip to China and died within days of being admitted to the hospital. The AH5N1 influenza virus is related to the flu virus that is making many of us sick right now but it is specifically adapted to infecting birds such as chickens and ducks. It`s a cousin to the human influenza virus. While it's possible (but difficult) to catch the virus from infected birds (from their droppings and secretions), because the virus is adapted to birds` lungs and airways, it's almost impossible to spread it from person to person. In other words, you may catch it from spending time with an infected duck but once you're sick you're unlikely to pass it along. That's actually great news because the virus when it does infect people, kills more than half of those who get sick. Young or old, sick or otherwise healthy, once it attacks you you have a real fight for your life on your hands. As long as the Avian AH5N1 virus is adapted mainly to birds and is tough to transmit, we're okay. If however it mutates and acquires the ability to be spread from person to person then we have the makings of a true disaster the likes of which we have not seen since the Spanish flu world-wide epidemic that struck at the end of World War 1. We`re much better prepared this time round. There are experimental vaccines based on the structure of the AH5N1 that we could rush into production hopefully in time to contain the spread of the virus. We`ve learnt a lot from the SARS outbreak but constant vigilence and the open sharing of information across countries is the key. Part of the reason why SARS spread was the failure of the authorities in the country of origin to be honest and rapidly forthcoming about what was happening within their borders. The best systems in the world fail when there is dishonesty or a lack of openness. If there is anything positive to take away from what has happened in Alberta, it`s the speed with which the information has been shared with the rest of us, but we still have a lot to learn.