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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Bird Flu TV Movie: Grim Worst Case

<P>Some Errors, Some Painful Truths in Worst-Case Bird Flu Movie</P>

Fact vs. Fiction continued...

In the movie, migrating birds spread the flu virus. In real life, migrating birds do seem to spread the disease among other birds. But many experts think it's the international trade in poultry -- not wild birds -- that spreads the virus.

In the movie, the arrival of infected wild birds is a harbinger of doom. In real life, migrating birds carry all sorts of flu viruses. If wild birds carrying H5N1 bird flu show up in the U.S. -- and many think that's inevitable -- it does not signal the start of a human epidemic.

Realistic Quarantines?

In the movie, quarantines shut whole neighborhoods off from the world. In real life, modern quarantines are usually voluntary. The idea is to keep people who have been exposed to a disease -- but who aren't yet ill -- from spreading the disease. For example, foreign travelers or people exposed at a public gathering may be quarantined. This is done by asking exposed individuals to remain in their homes or at community facilities. But in extreme cases, entire communities might be closed.

Quarantine is useful only in the earliest stages of an epidemic, when there is still the chance that a virus can be contained. Once there's an epidemic, "social distancing" is more effective. This means closing schools, asking people to avoid public gatherings, and asking people who feel sick to stay at home.

In the movie, health care workers wear flimsy masks for protection. In real life, health care workers use what are known as N95 respirators when treating bird flubird flu patients. N95 dust masks may offer protection. In the event of a bird flu pandemic, they will be widely used. But there's no proof they would really protect people from infection. Even if they did, proper use would be a problem for most people.

In the movie, there is at first no bird flu vaccine. It later turns out there is a French prototype vaccine that may or may not work. Only international sanctions force France to share the formula. In real life, there are prototype bird flu vaccines that may or may not work. Like the movie, in a real pandemic situation countries are unlikely to share drug and vaccine stockpiles if their own nation is in need -- but withholding basic scientific information is unlikely.

Current bird-flu prototype vaccines take two large doses, weeks apart, to stimulate immunity -- clearly no magic bullet to stop a flu pandemic. However, the government is stockpiling prototype vaccines, which may offer some protection to a limited number of health care workers and other critically important workers. In both the movie and real life, it would take at least six months before current technology could start producing a vaccine tailored to the pandemic strain.-->

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