Scientists have used bird flu virus samples from Egypt to develop a new basis for a vaccine against the toxic H5N1 strain that continues to circulate, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.
It’s worth considering that these proto-endemics, while they generate a lot of hype, for better or for worse, at their outset, also tend to stick with us as more-or-less regular, run-of-the-mill diseases.
I say this after reading this fascinating discussion in The New Yorker about the infamous forgotten “parrot flu” scare of late 1929-early 1930. The media, the medical profession, and legitimate epidemiological need combined to inflate a bubble of fear — but with it, research — that just as soon (dangerously) imploded. And while the disease was never the threat the panic made it out to be, it continues to infect 100-200 Americans every year.
In 80 years or so, will we regard the bird flu and swine flu outbreaks as we bemusedly consider the parrot flu story today? Maybe, but I feel better knowing that the WHO is around to have taken the right precautionary measures, even if that means “over-preparing.”
(image from flickr user Chewy Chua under a Creative Commons license)