Israel braces for bird flu
World Health Organization says efforts to contain deadly virus in Southeast Asia have failed; experts say 7 million could die. Israel prepares for worst-case scenario that would see thousands hospitalized, 3,000 die
Fears of a bird flu pandemic have heightened after a senior World Health Organization official warned Friday attempts to contain the deadly virus in Asia have failed.
"All attempts to bring it under control in Southeast Asia have failed," Shigeru Omi, the WHO's director in the Western Pacific region, told foreign correspondents based in Manila. On Thursday, health officials confirmed the virus had spread from Asia to Turkey and said that Europe should prepare for a pandemic.
Omi said the H5N1 virus, now transmitted to people only if they eat infected birds or live in close contact with them, was "unpredictable and unstable", raising the chance of it mutating into a form that could be more virulent to humans.
Experts estimate that, if it acquires the ability to infect people easily and spread efficiently, it will make more than 25 million people seriously ill and kill as many as 7 million.
Omi called on all countries to report suspected bird flu cases as soon as possible and share samples collected from infected poultry and people with the international community.
"Without those samples, we cannot know if the virus is mutating and if it is any closer to tipping the world into the unknown," he said.
Epidemic could leave 3,000 people dead
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry here is bracing for the worst case scenario that would see a bird flu epidemic hit a large segment of population and leave an estimated 3,000 people dead.
The Ministryâ€™s office for emergencies estimates that if the epidemic were to spread in Israel, some 780,000 people - more than 10 percent of the population - will visit the doctor and 10,000 more will be hospitalized.
According to estimates, at its peak, the epidemic will send 3,500 people to hospital, which will place a heavy strain on Israelâ€™s medical institutions.
As part of its preparations for a possible epidemic, the Health Ministry has issued a practical document to all health institutions.
The document states that unlike normal flu, which occurs between November and March, bird flu is a year-round virus. Estimates are that the peak of a bird flu epidemic in Israel will last between six to eight weeks, while the dissemination of the virus across the population will come in â€œwaves.â€
Schools may be closed
The Ministry has instructed medical staff to provide infected individuals with the necessary medical assistance, isolate them in emergency cases, and even to isolate whole communities considered â€œcontaminated.â€
The Ministry also estimates that many people will be absent from their work place if the epidemic were to hit Israel. In countries hit by flu epidemics, 10 to 20 percent of the work force remained at home during these times.
Israel will also weigh the possibility of closing schools as a measure to contain the epidemic.
Despite the alarming figures, no vaccine is available to protect human beings against bird flu, and experts believe the development of such preventive medicines will take up to 6 months from the time of identifying and isolating the virus.
Even if a vaccine is developed, making it widely available on the market will take a long time and if hit by bird flu, Israel will apparently have to face the epidemic without the appropriate vaccine.
Damn. Sounds worse than another Insanityfada. I wonder if it means I should exclude chicken from my diet though