Via The New York Times, a story by health reporter Donald G. McNeil, Jr.: A Flu Epidemic That Threatens Birds, Not Humans. Excerpt:
Although much of the country has barely noticed, avian influenza — a version of the virus that generated “Killer Bird Flu!” headlines a decade ago — is now sweeping the Midwest.
More than 20 million turkeys and chickens have died or been culled; Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin have declared states of emergency; and teams of experts are trying to figure out how the new virus is spreading.
No humans have caught this flu, but health officials fear they might. They are requiring that cullers and barn-cleaners wear the kind of protective gear that Ebola workers do. Officials have also advised that everyone who was recently in contact with affected poultry operations — workers, truckers, veterinarians and so on — take Tamiflu, a flu preventive.
This is not the Asian H5N1 flu virus, which has killed 440 of the 826 people known to have gotten it since 2003. But the three avian flus found in this country since December are related to it — each produced, scientists believe, when the Asian H5N1, an efficient killer of birds and people, mixed with less dangerous avian strains.
No one knows how lethal any of the new viruses might be to humans. But because the virus spreading in the Midwest can wipe out most of a flock in two days, all are assumed to be dangerous.
The authorities are preparing for the panic that may ensue if someone catches one of these viruses and dies. Still, officials, say, most Americans are in little danger. The overall risks pale compared with those posed by well-known mortal threats that elicit no panic: car crashes, bee stings, bathroom falls and so on.
“We deem this a low human health risk — low, but not zero,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So far, we don’t have worrisome signs. But we don’t want to be overly reassuring, because with influenza, we always take events quite seriously.”
McNeil also has a thoughtful report on the hazards of covering disease outbreaks over the past decade.