25 May 2006
The WHO has confirmed the possible transmission of the dreaded H5N1 avian flu from one person to another. Up until now the transmission of the virus has always been from bird to bird and to a lesser extent, from bird to mammals including man. Seven people in an extended family in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia that were infected have since died. “We have not had a cluster as large as this-seven people in an extended family.” Said WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley. Adding, “We can still find no sign of sick animals that might have infected these people so we’ve got a puzzle on our hands and it’s a worrying one.” This is the first time since the bird flu scare started that health authorities are confirming the possible human-to-human transmission.
Public Health officials worldwide have been on the alert for the past few years due to the growing threat from the bird flu. The alert is due to the fear that the virus might mutate and spread from human-to-human easily. If that were to happen, humans will pay a heavy price as millions of people could easily perish from the virus. More than a dozen major flu outbreaks have occurred within the last 500 years and the most memorable was the Spanish flu that claimed about 20 million lives at the end of World War 1.
WHO says that it is not a mutant strain of the virus that has caused the death of the people in North Sumatra. The agency’s alert level remains unchanged at 3. This means that there is “no or very limited human-to-human transmission”. WHO experts are trying to treat this case as an isolated incident that should not alarm people. “ All confirmed cases in the cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a patient during a phase of prolonged illness.” Said a WHO statement. The agency has however launched a probe.
Since 2003 the World Health Organization has confirmed that 218 people worldwide have been infected with bird flu and 124 have died. These infections have occurred in ten countries across Asia and Africa.
Njei Moses Timah