Yesterday a study was released that said some members of the H7 family of influenza viruses are gradually becoming better adapted to human receptor cells, and that they too pose a pandemic risk.
While readers of this, and other flu blogs, were hardly surprised by this revelation (see It Isn't Just Bird Flu), apparently the mainstream press was jolted briefly into consciousness over the continuing pandemic threat.
A few of yesterday's headlines covering the story:
Scientists warn of flu strain evolution Some strains of bird flu are coming ever closer... Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting News Network - Headlines 05:01
Bird flu strains are evolving: study SBS World News Australia - Environment 00:33
Evolution of flu strains points to higher risk of pandemic The Straits Times - Latest News 00:06
Evolution of flu strains points to higher risk of pandemic: study Yahoo! US - Health 23:09 26-May-08
North American bird flu viruses becoming more adapted to humans: study myTELUS - Ontario 22:58 26-May-08
Evolution of flu strains points to higher risk of pandemic: study (AFP) Yahoo! US - Health 22:49 26-May-08
Mild Bird-Flu Strains in Canada, U.S. Gained Ability to Attack... Bloomberg - Canada 22:26 26-May-08
Scientists identify new strain of bird flu The Times - Science 22:17 26-May-08
Of course, for consistently superior coverage of pandemic issues, we've come to rely on Helen Branswell of the Canadian Press. She gives us the facts without the hyperbole, and has an understanding of the subject matter that few reporters can match.
Ms. Branswell is one of a small handful of excellent reporters who cover pandemic issues regularly, and does it very well indeed.
Follow the link for the entire story, this is just a snippet.
By HELEN BRANSWELL The Canadian Press
Tue. May 27 - 4:32 AM
TORONTO — North American avian flu viruses of the H7 subtype — like the one responsible for British Columbia’s massive poultry outbreak in 2004 — seem to have adapted to more easily invade the human respiratory tract, a new American study suggests.
Experts say the findings underscore the fact that H7 flu viruses pose a significant pandemic threat and that surveillance for cases in wild birds, poultry and people ought to be a high priority.
"I think this is certainly amongst the most dangerous (avian flu) viruses out there," said virologist Dr. Ron Fouchier, with the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
"And I think we need to continue to develop vaccines for H7 just as well as H5(N1)."
Fouchier was commenting on a study published Monday by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He was not involved in the work.
The upshot of all of this is that the pandemic threat has never gone away, despite the downturn in mainstream media coverage. The H5N1 virus still remains very much in the lead as our prime candidate, but the H7 subtypes are in the running too, as are the H9's. Or we could get blind-sided by something completely unexpected.
Preparedness remains the key.
It won't matter what strain of virus sparks the next pandemic if you, your community, and our public health systems are prepared. But for that to happen, people need to accept the risk exists, and begin taking steps to help their communities prepare.
After all, being forewarned does us little good if we don't put that knowledge to use.