Despite the claim by government officials that an effective plan for dealing with possible bird flu (or other) pandemic will be completed by the end of the summer, several experts have accused the Bush administration of moving far too slowly. They are also calling plans to stockpile antiviral drugs inadequate.
Lawmakers have been told that the possibility of bird flu mutating into a form that is capable of human-to-human transmission is extremely alarming since humans lack immunity to the disease. There is additional concern that the U.S. stockpile of drugs is terribly inadequate. While Britain and France have ordered enough doses of the drug Tamiflu to treat 25% of their populations, the United States has a stockpile of only 2.3 million doses which would only treat less than 1% of the population. The drug, which may lessen the severity of the disease if taken wit 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, however, is not a cure and no study has shown that it improves a personâ€™s chances of survival. An experimental bird flu vaccine is currently under development at the National Institutes of Health and the results of safety and effectiveness trials are expected soon.
In a related story, Nature Magazine reported this week that up to half of the pig population in some areas of Indonesia may be infected with bird flu (H5N1 virus) but without causing symptoms. Experts fear that infected pigs pose a greater threat than poultry of spreading the disease to humans. Testing done on pigs in both other countries and other locations in Indonesia has not shown such high infection rates.