Ever hear the amusing expression, "So much as been written about
everything, it's hard to find anything out about it?" This certainly
applies to H5N1, avian flu, bird
flu, or whatever you want to call it.
Naturalists are eyeing the migratory birds overhead and scientists are
counting the human cases, most, if not all, of whom got it from a bird, not a
The key to widespread outbreaks or a multicontinent pandemic is for the
virus, carried by domestic and wild birds, to morph into a form that can be
passed from human to human via a cough or sneeze. Scientists are all over the
map on whether this will happen.
Robert G. Webster, the Rosemary Thomas Chair at St. Jude's Children's
Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., is sometimes called "The FluHunter." Webster recently says there is a 50-50
chance the virus will become transmissible human-to-human. If it does, he
projects that half the people in the country would die. He has stored a
three-month supply of food and water at his house.
Others cite the swine flu scare of several decades ago. That one
The upshot is no one knows for sure. The World Health Organization, Centers
for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department
of Homeland Security, and countless local governments are taking bird flu
seriously and trying to plan.
The irony may be that for all of this planning, taking care of cases will
probably fall to individuals and take place in the home. This is the view of
Gratton Woodson, MD, a primary care doctor at the Druid Oaks Health Center in
Decatur, Ga., who has made a years-long study of bird flu on behalf of his
patients and has published a bird flu preparedness manual to help them
The CDC also has put up a web site helping people to prepare for this
possibility. It's www.pandemicflu.gov.
Facing a Pandemic
Tom Skinner, a public affairs officer for the CDC, tells WebMD that the CDC
believes individuals should have an emergency preparedness plan for all
purposes, including the bird flu, should it come.
"Remember, the confusion after Hurricane Katrina?" Woodson asks.
"Multiply that -- the emptied stores, stranded people, lack of
transportation, services, and supplies -- times every state and probably every
You couldn't ride it out for a few weeks -- the flu
would probably come in waves, and even come back to an area, according to
Both Woodson and the government are operating on the assumption that a
vaccine, though in the works, probably will not be ready by the time the virus
got cranking. Supplies might be scanty compared with need in a genuine