Washington Post Back to Pushing Avian Flu Panic

Remember avian flu?

Until swine flu came along, that’s what was going to wipe out mankind. My last unprinted letter to the Washington Post scored the paper’s opinions page for declaring “panic is good . . . panic is what we want,” for claiming swine flu could kill 207,000 Americans and nine to 10 million worldwide, and for refusing to print anything to the contrary. Well, with the swine flu hysteria dying down in light of very few humans,dying the Post in desperation is switching back to the bird variety. And, true to form
rejecting sane letters such as this one of mine.

To the editor:

The review of Alan Sipress’s bookThe
Fatal Strain:
On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic” (December
6, 2009) is misleading in one important respect and terribly wrong in another.

While writer David Oshinsky states humans have been
contracting avian flu H5N1 for a decade without it becoming readily
transmissible between humans, according to the World Health Organization it was
first detected in Scottish poultry in 1959. Hence it’s been making contact with
humans for at least half a century. Oshinky says “a sort of mutation, common to
influenza viruses” could “produce an H5N1 variant that is transmissible.” But an
exhaustive 2007 lab study in the Oct. 2007 issue of Virology showed,
in the words of the researcher leader, “We think [H5N1] will need to get to 13
[mutations] to be truly dangerous.”

Oshinsky also wrongly parrots Sipress’s assertion that for H5N1
“the mortality rate has been a staggering 60 percent.” That’s based solely on
those who come into contact with the medical system, thereby excluding those
with milder symptoms. Consider that the recent CDC estimate of swine flu includes
4,000 deaths, 98,000 hospitalizations, and 22 million infections. So the ratio
of deaths to hospitalizations was one in 24 but to overall infections was
merely one in 5,500.

Indeed, a January 2006 Archives of Internal Medicine study
found extremely high rates of apparent bird flu illness among Vietnamese living
and working in close proximity to infected poultry, yet by definition none of
these people had died.

There, now! Nothing in that letter that could possibly be of interest to Post readers!