Money talks, and it seems to speaking ever more loudly about the threat from the avian influenza virus H5N1, or bird flu. The Insurance Information Institute indicated that a severe outbreak, along the lines of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, could result in estimated $133 billion in additional death claims (See IJ Website, Jan. 17). The World Bank has forecast that the economic cost to the world’s economy during the first year of any pandemic could reach $800 billion.
Those reports, along with others in a similarly catastrophic vein, apparently helped prompt a number of donor countries, meeting at a conference in Beijing, to pledge a total of $1.9 billion to fight the threat. The money will essentially go to fund efforts to prevent the virus from mutating to the point that it can be spread by human to human contact.
Up to now H5N1, which has been held responsible for some 80 deaths, mainly in Asia, but more recently in Turkey, has only been contracted by human contact with infected birds.
The U.S. has pledged some $330 million, in addition to the approximately $4 billion earmarked to combat the threat in the U.S., and the EU has pledged more than $250 million in addition to the various efforts underway in most individual member countries. The World Bank, which had been seeking some $1.5 billion, has offered a $500 million line of credit towards its fund-raising target, but its president, Paul Wolfowitz, indicated that more resources were urgently needed.
Meanwhile, there were continued reassurances that the virus doesn’t constitute an immediate threat to most people, as long as they take precautions. The French-based Mondial Assistance Group, a division of Germany’s Allianz, issued a bulletin on the company Website (www.allianz.com) indicating that there’s no need to panic. It notes: “Provided that the avian flu virus does not combine with the seasonal influenza virus and create a new virus type, something which occurs very rarely, danger of infection is only possible when handling infected birds. Therefore care must be taken.”
Gerhard Mueller, Mondial’s Medical Director, stressed: “The main thing is not to panic. Even if you have a fever or aching limbs, this is probably due to a seasonal flu infection. The risk of coming into contact with the virus is minimal.” He added that there is no reason to cancel business or holiday travel to the affected areas. “The virus is unstable and cannot survive for more than a few days,” Mueller continued. “And eating roast poultry is not a problem either, you simply need to be careful with raw meat or undercooked eggs.”
Mondial listed the following precautions:
– Avoid bird and animal markets, farms, cockfights and bird parks
– Only eat eggs and poultry, which have been cooked at a temperature of at least 70 degrees Celsius [F 158°]
– Avoid contact with surfaces or objects, which have been contaminated with animal secretions or excrement
– Do not buy or come into contact with ornamental or breeding birds
– Be wary of jewelry, which incorporates feathers as these could, in theory, be infected
– Wash your hands often using soap and water or disinfectant
– Read the latest recommendations of the World Health Organization WHO
Mueller also indicated that, flu vaccinations do not provide protection. “These only protect people against ‘normal’ flu,” he explained. “They are a good idea for people who want protection from seasonal influenza, but it is currently not possible to develop a bird flu vaccine.”
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