Years after human physicians detected the first humans infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus in sick people, we still have no signs that the virus can be spread between human beings.
Alright, there are a few cases that are not 100% clear and not fully investigated, but not a single sign of a pandemic has been discovered so far.
Results from two highly respected research groups tell us that this particular virus is hiding itself in the lower parts of the lungs and is therefore not likely to be spread by coughing or sneezing, as is common with other types of flu virus.
Still, many people and institutions make use of the poultry disease to scare the general public about what would happen if a flu pandemic would take its toll. The whole issue is surrounded by a lot of ‘ifs’ and emotions, and only a few facts.
One of the facts, highly ignored, is that the number of human casualties from H5N1 over the past three years is less than the number of people who die from regular flu in a single day.
I am writing this because I read a news item which states that a recent influenza pandemic outbreak simulation shows that telecommunications systems could be overwhelmed, and that the Internet could be shut down within 2-4 days of an outbreak.
The simulation conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton Inc of McLean, Va, and the World Economic Forum, found that an outbreak of avian flu would severely challenge the ability of governments and the private sector to manage essential services and communicate crucial information.
I suspect that the same conclusion could be drawn for any global panic situation or disaster.
What more does this conclusion tell us? It tells us a lot, but it mostly says that there are people around who will use people’s feelings about safety, creating added uncertainty and using this to their own advantage. I do not want to underestimate the potential risk of the H5 N1 virus, but we should not overreact either.