Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Incident: H5N1 Cluster, Indonesia

Up until now the NGO Security Blog hasn't discussed issues dealing with Avian Flu (in particular the H5N1 strain). While there is a lot of concern over the possibility of a pandemic caused by the virus, human fatalities have remained low and the disease is still primarily spread only by direct contact with infected birds.

However an announcement yesterday by the World Health Organization suggests the virus may have mutated to a form that is transmitted from human-to-human. There have been seven flu deaths within a family in Indonesia, with no apparent evidence of contact with sick birds or animals. This is the largest cluster of fatalities that has been reported to date, and experts are assessing whether the virus has mutated into a new variety that can easily be passed between humans. (Keep in mind there have been previous cases where human transmission has been suspected, with no resulting pandemic.)

At this point WHO is not prepared to raise the pandemic warning system to the next highest level, but the situation bears watching. If a pandemic does occur, the safety and security implications are staggering. While most larger NGOs have convened working groups and developed pandemic response strategies, the reality is during a full-blown pandemic it will be like using a small Bandaid/plaster to save a patient that's severely bleeding.


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