We recently put up a story about keeping West Nile disease in perspective. It’s easy to shrug off bird flu as well, but you shouldn’t do it. Here at unknowncountry.com, we warned to you to sell your SUV two years ago, before gas prices started their dramatic rise. Now we’re telling you to get a prescription for Tamiflu and keep it on hand, since it’s the only antidote for avian flu.

Brian Ross writes for abc news that bird flu (the H5N1 virus) could kill a billion people worldwide and turn major cities into ghost towns. He quotes President Bush, who has never paid much attention to science, as saying, “If left unchallenged, the virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century.” The government has agreed to stockpile $100 worth of bird flu vaccine, even though its effectiveness is still unknown, but if there’s an epidemic of the disease, even that won’t be enough. In London, officials are increasing morgue space in order to prepare for the epidemic, since they expect it to be a larger problem than AIDS. It kills 55% of the people it infects. Normal human flu primarily affects the upper respiratory tract, producing a runny nose and sore throat, but the bird flu virus goes straight to the lungs, causing a severe case of pneumonia. Despite penicillin, it is still possible to die of pneumonia?Jim Henson, the man who invented the muppets, died of it only 15 years ago. During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, people died a few days after they first got sick.

Will this flu be that much of a killer? Scientists think it will be because this version of the flu virus has never infected humans before, so our bodies have no immunity against it. Like SARS, it started in China, in huge bird markets where ducks are caged next to mammals. Scientists aren’t sure that it can be spread from person to person yet, but they expect the virus to mutate in order to make this possible any day now?if it hasn’t already.

Ancient cultures didn’t have pandemics because they were isolated from one another. When disease spread between individuals living in the same area, their immune systems had time to gear up to fight the new virus. Modern travel is what has changed things for us. Travel to new worlds every week the safe way, with Dreamland, and subscribe today so you can listen to past shows and download them onto an MP3 disc.

Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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