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H5N1 - Time To Start Paying Attention?

We hate to pause for something serious, but this may be of interest to many
of you.

We've been following the developments surrounding avian flu, and many of the
developments are troubling, and you might want to get up to speed on it if
you're not already. We're not medically trained, and we don't mean to
alarm anyone unnecessarily, but the news is concerning.

The particular virus in question is called the H5N1 virus, and it is becoming
more virulent and has been detected in mammals now, including pigs. Pigs
are a bridge species
, and the virus can jump more easily from pigs to humans
than it can from birds to human.

This isn't the first time a major influenza outbreak threatened the world, of
course. In 1918, the Spanish flu was devastating, and bodies were stacked
outside morgues around the world, because they couldn't be processed and buried
fast enough.

Things are radically different this time, though. Jet travel means an
outbreak could go global in a day or two. And with the remarkable economic
developments in Asia over the last few decades, migratory waterfowl have lost
many of their former stops, and end up stopping instead at farms, where they can
contract - and then spread - the virus further.

Sort of the equivalent of jet travel, if you will.

The Vietnamese, to their credit, are working hard to fight the disease, but
nearby Cambodia, still recovering from the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge, lacks
the medical infrastructure to even track the disease, much less contain
it. And in North Korea, who knows?

The Chinese, meanwhile, have done something truly egregious: they have been
giving a human antiviral drug to chickens in an effort to stop the disease.
Amantadine is one of only two drugs which can fight influenza, and experts
expect HN51 has already grown resistant to it.

Most cases so far have been documented in Vietnam and Thailand, but they are
showing up elsewhere now: Java, Indonesia, and, further afield, Poland. So
far, the people affected are mostly those who work with poultry.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,
says "you can get rid of the 'if,' because (a pandemic) is going to

Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota,
says that if it hit today, "I don't know what we could do about it except say, 'We're screwed.'"

Experts fear that the U.S. alone could have 500,000 deaths in the event of an
epidemic. And unlike previous epidemics, there is a new, highly vulnerable
group: those who have weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS.

It's not a pretty scenario, to say the least. We wanted to post some
information so that if you weren't aware of it you could start keeping up.