9 May 2005

Warning On Avian Flu Complacency

by Kate Melville

A UK doctor writing in the British Medical Journal has warned that governments around the world must stop burying their heads in the sand over the growing threat of a global epidemic of avian flu. Dr. Nigel Higson writes that disasters like the Asian Tsunami will "pale into insignificance" when compared to the human cost of an influenza pandemic which has the potential to wipe out "hundreds of millions" of lives.

Higson says the catalyst for government action should have been the discovery earlier in the year that avian flu (known as strain H5N1) is now spreading via human to human transmission. "Development of vaccines against H5N1 needs government pump priming, as will the stockpiling of euraminidase inhibitors, which should be effective against avian flu," writes Higson.

"It is many years since a pandemic struck, and people have become complacent in that time. For governments to bury their heads in the sand may have some benefits in many political areas but it will be disastrous in terms of pandemic planning."

Now that human to transmission has been confirmed, Higson believes that doctors should prepare themselves for the practicalities of treating epidemic or pandemic influenza as well as encouraging increased pharmaceutical company capacity.