In Asia, bird flu has jumped to new species, killing three house cats and infecting a white tiger in a Thailand zoo. Since there is also bird flu in the U.S., the virus will probably jump to other species here as well?and maybe eventually to humans. Once humans contract the flu, it will be spread by overseas travelers, just as SARS was. Health workers predict that Asian bird flu will be a bigger and more dangerous epidemic than SARS because it will be a new virus in humans, one that our immune systems are not equipped to handle.
Dick Thompson, of the World Health Organization, says, “It isn’t the kind of animal we would be worried about as a mixing vessel like we would be if we saw the infection in pigs, for instance.” This is because pigs are more genetically similar to humans, so if the virus jumps to pigs, it will be more likely to infect people.
But WHO’s Prasert Thongcharoen says, “If it’s true, it’s very dangerous because pets are very close to humans. Because this disease is new to the world, nobody knows how far it can go.”
Alisa Tang writes in the Associated Press that 196 cows in Thailand have also died of bird flu. Yukol Limlamthong, of the Thai Livestock Department, says, “So far, we only know that the cattle were local breeds and were roaming freely in the village.” But it’s also suspected that they may have died from cold weather or from foot-and-mouth disease.
Jacques Diouf, of the Food and Agriculture Organization, says, “It’s quite a serious problem. Unless we deal with it very seriously, there is the risk not only of other birds contracting it but also other animals, and naturally we have also seen the effect on humans. That’s why it is necessary that we cooperate together in the region.”
We have a lot to learn from the past, if we would only listen.
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