LONDON – UK’s top medical officer has issued a stern warning that the bird flu pandemic could has the potential to ravage Britain and kill as many as 50,000 people.
Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England said today that the impact of such a pandemic would be devastating, “It’s inevitable that when the flu pandemic comes, and we don’t know whether that will be next winter or even in five or 10 years’ time, that it will have a very serious impact on the health of our country. That’s a biological inevitability,” he said. He dodged questions as to whether Britain was ready to cope with a flu pandemic of such proportions and only said that the government’s contingency plans estimated that 50,000 lives would be lost in the UK.
The H5N1 strain of Avian flu has already started to claim lives in the Far East. Official estimates put the death toll at 60 over the last two years, but experts say that many deaths could have gone unreported as China has yet to open its doors for inspections by the WHO. The world’s premier health organization sought to quell fears of a worldwide death toll of 5 million to 150 million people that its infectious disease expert Dr David Nabarro has predicted.
The UK on its part has ordered 14.6 million doses of Tamiflu, a drug that can lessen the symptoms of avian flu and prevent its fatal course. According to the latest reports, 900,000 doses have been delivered so far. “Those won’t eliminate the problem but for people who get it, it should reduce the severity of their attack and it should prevent many people from dying,” Sir Liam confirmed.
WHO officials are worried that the H5N1 strain will eventually mutate thus spreading easily from birds to humans. They say that the only method to prevent a pandemic would be to detect the virus early and treat 20,000 people closest to the area where the outbreak occurs. The WHO has stockpiled three million doses of the anti-viral drug to combat such an outbreak.