AVIAN FLU MAY COME TO AMERICA
By Greg Szymanski
Dr. Henry Niman has been dedicating his life as a microbiologist to tracking the mysterious avian flu outbreaks in almost every corner of the world for the last two years.
Niman, who did his postgraduate work at the University of Southern California and now lives in Pittsburgh, isn’t in the business of scaring people with trumped-up biological conspiracy theories. But he is in the complicated business of trying to figure out how viruses mutate and how to best protect mankind against a flu pandemic that could kill millions of people worldwide.
Niman says the avian flu, in one of its many mutated forms, is coming to America, the only questions remaining are when, what strain and how deadly.
Niman says don’t rely on the government for advice, assistance or an immediate vaccine, since the United States, as well as the rest of the world, is playing a game of catch-up against the many strains of H5N1 avian flu.
“The present pandemic vaccines have proven ineffective in 2004 for the Vietnam strain, and they are still ineffective for what is being called the wild bird flu strain and others,” said Niman recently in an extended conversation
from his Pittsburgh home.
“We’ve known about the seriousness of H5N1 mutations and different forms of the virus for some time. We’ve had avian flu before, but this year the situation is extremely critical for a variety of reasons, including the many different strains detected and the unusually high mortality rate for some of those strains.”
Although there has been much controversy about whether human-to-human contact has been confirmed in H5N1 cases, Niman said 15 to 20 clusters have been uncovered overseas and human-to-human passage of the deadly virus has been known since 2004.
He said what compounds the problem is the World Health Organization (WHO) still refuses to acknowledge human-to-human passage of the Vietnam-type strain even though strong evidence exists such as three family members in Jakarta who all died from avian flu within a short period of time.
As far as the United States is concerned, Niman says, “If it comes this year and it’s the wild bird flu strain, it will come from the north by way of bird migration. If it is the Vietnam strain, it will come from a person landing here on an airplane, and how and when that will occur is anybody’s guess.”
Niman said the avian flu symptoms, which are killing a high percentage of people overseas, include pneumonia, respiratory problems, internal bleeding and organ failure.
Regarding the spread of the wild bird flu strain, he recently wrote: “Two wild birds—a duck and a magpie—have been found dead near Lake Sharonur in the Russian republic of Tannu Tuva—the first such case among wild birds reported.
“The wild bird deaths described above may signal more H5N1 wild bird flu in southern Russia, just north of outbreaks reported in Mongolia. Mongolia invited WHO to help control the wild bird deaths, which were H5N1 positive,” he said.
Asked how he would protect his family against the many H5N1 strains he tracks on a daily basis, he added:
“There really aren’t many alternatives, but I would stock up on antiviral medication. Besides that, devise a plan to isolate yourself with enough food and water for an extended period of time.
“Keep your eyes open, because the bird flu is coming, and I don’t think the government will be much help,” he said.
(Issue #41, October 10, 2005)