Some things just need to be said...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bird Flu Pandemic

"I just have one final point. As I said, we don't actually know what form the pandemic, when it does arrive, will take, when it will emerge, and what impact it will have on our health or our society. This is why our approached planning for a pandemic must include not just antivirals, not just vaccines, but must also include thinking through public health and other measures and what actions that communities and individuals can take." David Butler-Jones, Chief Public Health Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada at a media briefing in Ottawa, October 20, 2005

We don't know. Chilling words from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer. Butler-Jones made those comments on Thursday, October 20th at a techinal briefing for reporters prior to the an international meeting of health ministers to take place in Ottawa October 25/25 2005.

Health experts around the world are watching the bird flu because they fear the H5N1 strain may mutate into a form that can easily be transmitted between humans and trigger a human flu pandemic. That flu could rival the spread of the 1918 Spanish flu. The spanish fly killed approximately 50 million people. The spread was aided by soldiers returning home from the first world war. Today a flu virus can quickly spread around the world due to air travel.

What are world governments doing to address this? Not a great deal it seems. Canada is considered a leader and we don't know if what we are doing will be effective. To date two drugs may be effective in treating a human strain of the Bird flu virus. Tamiflu made by Swiss drug maker Rouche and Glaxokline has a drug which is harder to use but available.

Canada is the only nation that has a domestic contract with a private pharmaceutical company to create enough antiviral drugs for every single resident. We have at this time enough Tamiflu to treat 2.3 million people.

Rouche is under fire internationally to produce more of the Tamiflu and to license its productiuon by genetic manufacturers. If you order the drug today it would take Rouche up to 15 months to get it to you. Rouche seems reluctant to do this but may welll have to due to international pressures. Generic drug manufacters in Asia and in particular, India are prepared to make the drug without a license though they are attempting to reach a deal with Rouche to avoid having to do this.

All this for a drug we don't know will work but at this point is the best available option. Recently a boy in Asia has been tested positive for the H5N1 virus and is resistant to Tamiflu.

Canada's recent experiance with SARS has ensured this country is taking the matter seriously. The public health model in Canada has allowed a greater degree of cooperation and ability to coordinate a response to the next flu pandemic whenever it arrives. Further privatization of our public health system will erode that ability.

The recent creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada modeled somewhat after the very effective BC Centre for Diesease Contro,l should see its funding and capibilities expanded to meet growing threats such as a Flu Pandemic that is not a matter of if its coming, but when.

Our public health model continues to show the way.

Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan
Human Health Issues related to Domestic Avian Influenza Outbreaks

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