Should We Worry About the Bird Flu?

Should We Worry About the Bird Flu?

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Ed Yeates reportingShould we worry about the bird flu?

Yes, says the chair of a national Task Force studying the disease.

While the pandemic sky is not falling yet, there's a real urgency to fix the vaccine industry before crisis hits.

The Avian flu virus is moving - but not enough so far, to cause panic.

Andrew Pavia, M.D., Chairman, Pandemic Influenza Task Force: "We should be worried but not frightened."

That's the word from Dr. Andrew Pavia at the University of Utah Medical Center and Primary Children's Hospital. He's chairman of the National Pandemic Influenza task Force for the Infectious Disease Society of America. That group played a major role in developing a National Pandemic Plan for the Government that's still yet to be approved.

Andrew Pavia, M.D., Chairman, Pandemic Influenza Task Force: "If we're not a little bit worried, we're not going to get things done quickly enough. We're not going to spend the money it takes - and no doubt about it, in the next couple of years, there will be a pandemic."

What kind of pandemic? Dr. Pavia says we don't know. It might be the virus everybody is tracking now - or another one nobody's thought of yet.

Andrew Pavia, M.D., Chairman, Pandemic Influenza Task Force: "We don't know whether it will look like 1918 or even worse - or whether it's going to look like 1956 or 1968 when we had a rather mild pandemic. It may even look like the flu of two years ago."

For now, the Avian virus has spread from birds to humans in Asia - but only among those who've had extensive contact with infected chickens.

Migratory birds have also carried the virus to Europe. They have not brought it here yet - and even if they do, you're not going to get the avian flu by walking past a chicken farm, or eating cooked chicken, or feeding ducks in a pond.

But once the virus mutates and learns how to spread from human to human easily - as the flu we all know does now - it could spread worldwide in a matter of months.

Potent or not so potent? Doesn't matter. Pavia says a national pandemic plan is long overdue.

Andrew Pavia, M.D., Chairman, Pandemic Influenza Task Force: "There are delays in getting the vaccine industry fixed. There are delays in doing the science - in getting better flu vaccines. To really get going and hold our leaders feet to the fire to make sure they give us the tools with which to fight it."

The plan's proposed cost: five to ten billion dollars.

Pavia calls the current way of making flu vaccines, old fashioned. He says it would take up to nine months after a pandemic begins to leave the assembly line.

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