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Possible Human Spread of Bird Flu

Limited Spread Within Family Not Bird Flu Breakout

Wedding Ends in Grief continued...

What keeps public health officials up at night is the nightmare scenario in which a deadly bird virus recombines to create a new virus -- a deadly human virus. Such a virus would spread quickly because few humans would have any immunity. Nobody knows exactly what would happen in this doomsday scenario, but CDC officials estimate that, without a vaccine, such a virus could cause some 200,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Just in case, the WHO and CDC are working feverishly on an H5N1 vaccine. The technology exists to make one, but the process is likely to take six months at least. Large-scale production would take longer. The U.S. and other nations also are stockpiling flu drugs. Strategic use of these drugs might slow the spread of a new human flu, but many experts wonder whether there are enough of these drugs to do the trick.

Other Bird Flus, Other Human Infections

In 1997, the H5N1 bird flu broke out in Hong Kong. There were 18 confirmed human cases with six deaths. Human-to-human transmission took place, but it was very limited. No human flu developed.

In 2003, another H5N1 bird flu outbreak in Honk Kong resulted in one confirmed human infection but no human-to-human spread.

Also in 2003, a different bird flu -- H7N7 -- broke out in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. There were 83 human infections and one death, although most human infections were mild eye infections. There was, however, human-to-human spread. No human flu developed.

CDC Bird Flu Hotline

The CDC has opened a bird flu hotline: (888) 246-2675.

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