Chemo. For the Birds

Mar 2, 2006 10:54am

Thursday morning

The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm is one of the world’s great research institutions, and one of their researchers has a paper in The Lancet about bird flu.

“Since the mortality from H5N1 infection is high, and since there is concern that the virus could cause a pandemic, novel treatments for human beings are warranted,” writes Dr. Jan-Inge Henter. 

He suggests that the virus may, in its current form, resemble a rare immune disorder known as haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH.  The solution he proposes is chemotherapy.

It’s a long shot, and it has not been tested in humans, but Henter says that people who contracted H5N1 from birds have some symptoms that resemble HLH.  Since 2003 worldwide, 94 people have died from HSN1. 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember that the disease has not yet been seen anywhere to transfer from one person to another.  The problem is that if it mutates into a form that can, we have few defenses.  Most contingency plans call for isolation of infected people, but there’s no way to make a vaccine or antidote to a mutation that, right now, doesn’t even exist, and may never. 

Harvard’s School of Public Health has done a poll that showed what’s being described as “muted concerns” about the risk of a pandemic.  57 percent said they were “concerned” about the potential spread of the virus, but only 15 percent said they were “very concerned.”  Were people worred that they or an immediate family member might become ill?  78 percent said no.

If a human-to-human mutation does appear, though, all bets are off.  The researchers who conducted the poll report the potential for “significant disruption of the economy and the health care system.”  70 percent say they would reduce or avoid travel, avoid public events, stay home and keep their children home. 

You can find more HERE.


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