Questions About Bird Flu Vaccinations

Friday, June 23, 2006

One buzz on-line this month has been a family in Indonesia who all died from the bird flu. While the first victim got it from a sick chicken, the rest apparently all got it from the first victim in the later stages of the infection. Although this constituted human to human transmission, the experts are still saying the virus has not mutated. Fair enough, I guess, except all seven people who got the bug are now dead.

As I understand the problem with bird flu – the mortality issue arises out of the H5N1 virus being something to which we have no immune system response. None of us have been exposed to it before, which is why when there eventually is a human to human outbreak – it is expected, feared to be a massive pandemic.

Despite Tamiflu’s potential mitigation of the virus, due to variation and unavoidable mutation of viruses – we don’t even know if when the time comes that will work. Which gets to my question: if lack of exposure is what will ultimately determine how many people die, then why are we not including some variant of H5N1 in our annual flu vaccines so our bodies will at least have some form of protection?

It may not ultimately be the exact viral form that hits, it may not keep us from getting sick, but it will at least improve everyone’s chance of surviving the bird flu – would it not? Assuming the science that’s been in the news for almost two years is true (and it seems like it is) – it seems like the issue now is not whether we will get bird flu, but whether we will live through it.

Maybe someone much more microbial than most can advise why that’s a bad suggestion; maybe someone’s already doing it, and I just missed that press release. But if it’s not – well, then it’s time for the CDC and company to make like a Vault commercial – and get to it.

Lex Coleman

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