Saturday, November 26, 2005

Expert says bird flu has killed 300 people in China

Earlier this evening I had an argument with my girlfriend. It was quite simple. We arranged to have coffee somewhere, and we ended up doing everything except that. We bought a bottle of wine, we drove around the centre where the coffee shop is, and she had driven there and back expecting me to already be there. Am I angry at her? A little. What I am mostly angry at is this: people don't listen.

I know because try as I might to pay close attention, it's not so easy. We are so easily distracted.
I have noticed over the last few weeks, as conditions on this planet have become increasingly urgent, that even those who are fairly aware of what is happening, still manage to become preoccupied, to get sidetracked. I do too. Even, focussed as I am on these issues, I am watching cricket on television and I thought I might watch a movie this evening.
I feel a very strong sense that in a few weeks, the world will have changed into a different place. We will look back to the present moment and not believe what we did with it, what opportunities we wasted with meaningless behaviour.

Why is listening so important?

Well, simple case, if you cross a road and you're looking straight ahead with half closed eyes, and your iPod is delivering Anastasia to your eardrums, will you have the perception, will have have enough reaction time when the car approaching (that you might have heard had you been alert or paying attention) hits you? No.

You might think it is an extreme example. We have the luxury now of a business-as-usual approach. Watching TV, going to restaurants, seems normal.
In the conversations I've had, I've asked people simply to imagine the implications of some of the catastrophes we are faced with. In the same way a skier about to do a downhill section, or a rock climber about to solo up a bold face, or any athlete visualises an activated scenario.
Many people, even the experts, are reluctant to do this. People say, "If it happens, we can't do anything anyway..."

Actually, you can do a lot. Both Peak Oil and a Pandemic share a simple common bottom line. Economic Paralysis. If you want a simple framework for what that means, here it is:
Food shortages.
If you want to know what you need to do, it's this: make sure you have long term access to fresh food.
Why: Because in the Next World what will happen?
Nothing will be moving. Including food.
New Orleans is a good analogy. You use up local resources that were trucked or shipped there in the first place, and then you rely on outside help. What if it doesn't come? Where will you find food and fresh water when your local supermarket is stripped bare?

This scenario begins to seem very outlandish. It's perhaps because we have, above all, lost an ability, as a collective, to imagine. We can't imagine a better life, and we also can't imagine the life we are living, unravelling. It is not an exagerration to say that in only the H5N1 scenario, you can have a world with 65 victims one day, and 24 hours later, it can basically go everywhere. Am I saying that in a single day, the world can change. No. In a moment.
Imagining it before hand may help you deal with the actuality of it.
Many people feel it is a pointless exercise because, the usual refrain, 'there's nothing you can do'.

But there is quite a lot you can do.
For a start, you can start listening.
You can show an awareness in the world beyond what is fun and entertaining, beyond your job and earning money.
Begin to develop an interest in significant events around you.

I've had a number of conversations now, about H5N1. I've spoken to an expert, I've spoken to friends and family, I've watched a documentary, I've read thousands of words in news articles. I'm finding definite patterns of information.

Here are some bottom lines:
- Cooler weather favors the survival and spread of the virus (guess what is happening in the Northern Hemisphere...yes...winter)
- Experts maintain that the greatest danger we face is the virus (which has a 66-70% kill rate, the Spanish Flu was 3-5%) gaining human to human transmission on its own, or finding a mixing vessel (pig or human) that already has another flu virus. I personally don't see it as an either or scenario. I see both scenarios happening simply because virus is already everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
- National Geographic projects 180-360 million deaths based on the 1918 data and kill ratio
- The media is under-reporting this issue, and governments are suppressing it. When you hear H5N1 has a 5% penetration, it probably means 45%. By the time conventional news reaches us, it will be useless.

Bird flu, WHO
Bird flu special report, New Scientist

A respected Japanese scientist, who works with the World Health Organization, says 300 people have died of H5N1 bird flu in China, including seven cases caused by human-to-human transmission.

He says he was given the information in confidence by Chinese colleagues who have been threatened with arrest if they disclosed the extent of the problem.

The allegations, which he revealed at a meeting in Germany, contrast sharply with China’s official position. It reports three confirmed cases of H5N1 in people: a boy in Hunan province who recovered, and two women who died in Anhui province, the latest of which was announced on Thursday. There may be another probable case in Hunan.

But Masato Tashiro, head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease – a WHO-collaborating centre for bird flu – told the meeting of virologists in Marburg, Germany, on 19 November that “we have been systematically deceived”. His comments were reported in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

He told the stunned meeting, called to mark the retirement of a senior German virologist, that there have been “several dozen” outbreaks in people, 300 confirmed deaths and 3000 people placed in isolation with suspected cases.

Severe restrictions
Tashiro could not be reached for comment today. The newspaper reported that he said the numbers came from sources he trusted, while he was in Hunan province for the WHO, working with Chinese investigators on the recent H5N1 outbreak there.

He said five Chinese medical personnel had been arrested for trying to report these cases, according to the paper. China enforced severe restrictions on the investigation and reporting of suspected cases of bird flu in June 2005.

“These rumours have been investigated, and we’ve been told by the Chinese Ministry of Health that there’s no foundation to them,” Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, told New Scientist.

Emergency workers
Virologists consider the relative absence of human cases of bird flu in China unusual, given its widespread infection in birds. China has reported poultry outbreaks in twenty counties all across the country since mid-October, the latest being on Thursday.

The WHO told the official Chinese news agency Xinhua last week that the virus causing the outbreak in Hunan is the same as the one in Vietnam and Thailand, where H5N1 has caused 113 confirmed human cases and 55 deaths so far.

There are other unconfirmed reports of human cases in China. Boxun News, an independent Chinese website, reported this week that 77 workers brought in to help control rampant H5N1 outbreaks in poultry in Liaoning province in November have died of the virus, listing 14 names.

Boxun reported the extent of the outbreak in wild birds at Qinghai Lake in central China in May, and alleged then that 120 people had been put in stringent hospital isolation in a nearby town, possibly with bird flu.

Bird Flu – Learn more about the flu pandemic that could kill millions in our continually updated special report.

No comments: