While bird flu is a public health concern this year, older Americans will remember that three decades ago there was a flurry of interest about another germ that threatened to jump the “species barrier.” Doctor Jim Roth, Director of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at though Iowa State University, says at that time in the mid-1970s there was concern that swine flu would spread into the human population.
Swine flu emerged in a group of soldiers and it looked like it might spread, so they quickly developed a vaccine. It never did end up spreading outside that small group. The current avian flu virus is spreading from bird to bird very easily, he says, looks like it could spread around the world.
Scientists suspect this one could mutate to a form that spreads from person to person, and then could create a serious pandemic. When that happens, or if that happens, he says you’d worry more about getting person-to-person transmission than being infected by a bird. While there are many diseases that can infect more than one species of living thing, those are still fairly rare and mostly affect only people who live in close contact with the animals.
No case of the “H-five-N-one” bird flu so far has been known to spread from one person to another. The ISU veterinary medical center recently hosted clinicians from more than a dozen nations to train them in how to quickly and reliably diagnose cases of the bird flu.
The U.S. is already well prepared with lots of diagnostic labs that can detect the germ quickly and deal with it. The reason we want other countries ready to deal with it is so they can quickly confirm and stamp out the virus, because if we can eradicate it from other countries, there’s less chance it’ll get into our country.