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Few know of bird flu risk

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  • Few know of bird flu risk

    Few know of bird flu risk

    [Posted: Wed 22/08/2007 by Angela Long]
    Nearly seven in ten Irish people are unaware of the risk of another influenza pandemic, and three-quarters were not fully aware of the risk of bird flu, according to a survey for the Irish Council for Bioethics (ICB).

    Yet if bird flu reached Ireland, the worst-case scenario predicts over 50,000 deaths and 78,000 people in hospital. This is the finding of a model done by the Irish Pandemic Influenza Expert Group.

    Bird flu, or avian influenza, broke out in south east Asia in 2003. Since then there have been over 190 human deaths from the H5N1 strain of influenza, its formal name. Hundreds of thousands of birds have died or been slaughtered to stop the spread of the disease, especially in Hong Kong and Thailand.

    The research, just released, was done for the ICB’s conference on ethical dilemmas in a pandemic, held late last year.

    Several task forces in Ireland are examining the issue and planning for any possible outbreak, including the expert group, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture.

    The expert group model, which was based on flu outbreak experiences in Britain, estimated that a serious outbreak would last nearly four months.

    While not knowing a lot about bird flu, respondents to the Irish survey thought the media coverage of the disease had been ‘proportionate’. Only two deaths have occurred in Europe, and far from Ireland, in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

    But nearly half people surveyed (48%) expected some sort of influenza pandemic was likely in the next 10 years. An equal percentage believed, mistakenly, that the Department of Health provides a pandemic flu vaccine to infants and elderly people every winter.

    The ICB report said there was ‘a distinct lack of knowledge’ among the Irish public of any drugs that could be used to treat pandemic influenza, with 94% of the surveyed population unaware of such drugs. Among the few (5%) who knew something of possible drug treatments, few identified antiviral drugs as a means of treating pandemic influenza, though others did name the antiviral drug Tamiflu correctly.

    In recent days two women have died from bird flu in different parts of Indonesia. Eighty-four of the victims of H5N1 have been Indonesian.