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Dateline: Reporting the Avian Flu

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  • Dateline: Reporting the Avian Flu
    Reporting the Avian Flu (Ann Curry, Dateline and Today show anchor)

    It is against my nature to want to scare people. Even as a kid, I didn't understand what was fun about sneaking up on someone.
    So I am struggling with my discomfort in reporting what we at NBC News have learned about the Avian Flu.
    This is the virus, first found in Hong Kong, that has in recent years, spread like wildfire in birds, into Southeast Asia, then last year into Central Europe, this year reaching all the way to Great Britain, and just a few months ago, into Africa.
    So far, 200 people have been made sick, more than half have died, all it appears, infected by birds.
    When experts began predicting it could reach the U.S., I suggested at a Dateline story meeting, that we start asking questions: are there safeguards to protect the American people? What should we do to protect ourselves? Dateline's senior producers assigned a team to investigate.
    Ever wish you'd never asked?
    Our NBC News team, contacted some of the world's top experts in the field of influenza, including leading officials at the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and more.
    Here's what they told us:
    1. As the Avian Flu spreads, it is mutating, increasing the chances it will turn into a virus that can be spread not just from birds to humans, but from humans to humans. If this happens there would a pandemic. No one knows whether or not this will happen.
    2. If a pandemic starts, chances are it cannot be stopped. The World Health Organization told us, it would try to stop it, if warning signs come in time. But this has never been tried before.
    3. According the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, in a severe pandemic, as many as 90 million people could get sick worldwide. Most people who would survive, but by some estimates almost two million people might die.
    At this point, you are probably thinking, as I was, you've got to be kidding. But that's what the government is saying.)
    4. It would likely take at least 6 months to produce a vaccine, once the new, mutated virus is identified. So during the height of a pandemic, a vaccine will not be available.
    5. It is very possible the current strain of Avian Flu will not mutate into a virus that can be transmitted by humans. Still, according to these same experts, a flu pandemic of some sort is "probable," because history tells us "pandemics happen." There have already been three in the last century, the worst in 1918, killed up to 40 million.
    But certainly, you might be thinking, "Surely, with all the medical advances at our fingertips, America will never see a pandemic like 1918, right?" The U.S. government isn't so sure.
    6. The nation's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, who has closely studied the 1918 pandemic says America is "underprepared," that if a pandemic were to start, people would die, hospitals in the U.S. would be overwhelmed, and that even when a vaccine is found, it may not be widely available, as there are not currently enough vaccine manufacturers to produce all that would be needed.
    Here's the good news. We can better protect ourselves if we are informed.
    So our news team asked the same group of world experts on influenza to help write a scenario on how a pandemic could start, how it could affect daily life, and what people can do to protect themselves.
    Because we needed to illustrate the scenario, NBC News took the unusual step of using volunteers and a few community actors working with NBC news cameramen to go through the motions of visualizing what could happen.
    The team worked to stay strictly within the bounds of good journalism, and it was a challenge under the unusual circumstances. Pains were taken to make certain we stayed true to what the experts were telling us.
    The final report is a full hour, which airs this coming Sunday night, April 23rd, on Dateline NBC.
    I hope you are informed and empowered. But please forgive us. We may, because of the subject matter, also scare you a little.

  • #2
    Re: Dateline: Reporting the Avian Flu

    Hey, only 2 million die? thats not so bad, whats all the fuss about? Try plugging in 3,250,000,000 - THAT would be an interesting show.