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Bird Flu Vaccine Money Better Spent Elsewhere
[Opinion] US would be wiser to enhance treatment and prevention of tuberculosis
Hartmut Kaiser (emperor)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-06 06:39 (KST)   
Like all influenza viruses, bird flu (that is, the H5N1 subtype of the influenza virus) tends to have a lot of mutations in the course of time, thus the vaccines that have been developed are only efficient against certain strains of H5N5, although cross-reactivity may offer a certain protection against other strains. Because of the high rate of change in the virus genome there is the possibility that a highly infectious strain may emerge and cause an epidemic among humans.

The statistics of the World Health Organization (WHO) show that since December 2003 385 people worldwide have been infected with H5N1. Of these, 243 died of the disease. Most of the cases occurred in Asia.

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Until now H5N1 was not highly infective; only people who live in close contact with infected birds, like farmers who share a room with them or butchers and people who slaughter birds and have contact with their excrement or blood, are at risk.

The virus can survive best at low temperatures (about 4 degrees Celsius).

Some companies have been developing vaccines against H5N1 for humans, such as Novartis (Switzerland), Sanofi-Aventis (France), CSL Limited (Australia) and Baxter International (USA), GlaxoSmithKline (USA) and Sinovac Biotech (China).

The H5N1 virus has caused much journalistic activity in all media, yet one has to keep in mind how many people die of other infectious diseases: 1.6 million people die annually of tuberculosis, 3 million people annually die of AIDS (30 million people have died of AIDS since 1980) and 2 million people die annually of malaria.

Despite the numbers none of these diseases has caused the kind of media hype and got as much attention from journalists as bird flu H5N1. This kind of public pressure forces democratically elected politicians, such as those in the United States, where not one single case in humans has yet occurred, into spending money for any kind of protection that is available against bird flu.

In April 2008 the German news agency DPA reported that the US government bought 38.5 vaccine units for $192.5 million (122.5 million Euros) from the French company Sanofi Pasteur. This vaccine is effective against the H5N1 strain from the Qinghai Lake in China. It will be stored in the United States, which will cause additional costs.

Would it not be wiser to spend that money on the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis, which is a big problem in the United States, or for distributing condoms to prevent HIV infection? The US government favors promoting abstinence over the use of condoms, but they could also spend the money to provide clean needles for drug abusers or by improving the conditions in US jails, where many inmates contract tuberculosis and HIV.

Perhaps the reason behind the decisions made by the US Department of Health and Human Services is that it is influenced by lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hartmut Kaiser

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