Avian, or bird, flu threatens to develop into a global pandemic that will sweep the world – according to some experts. Others claim that there's comparatively little risk, and that an epidemic, if it does happen, will probably not occur before next winter at the earliest, and may not be as widespread or as severe as was first thought.
If, like many others, you're confused and anxious about bird flu, here are some basic facts you need to know.
1) There are several forms of bird flu, all potentially fatal to birds, but only one of which is dangerous to humans.
2) At the moment, bird flu's spread almost exclusively by contact with infected birds. At present it can't normally be passed from one human to another. (The only exceptions known are isolated cases where people have been nursing family members in extremely close proximity.)
3) For the virus to mutate into a form which CAN be transferred between humans, it needs to be caught by someone who's already infected with a normal human type of flu – and, according to the World Health Organization, the resulting blending of the flu strains needs to be repeated seven times. That's quite possible, of course, but it can be made less likely by careful management of cases of ordinary flu.
4) If the virus does mutate (they often do), there are many other ways it can develop which don't necessarily involve human-to-human contagion. It could even mutate in a way which makes it relatively harmless, or even one which makes it impossible for humans to catch.
5) Governments worldwide are taking steps to cull infected birds and inoculate the healthy ones, and looking at other ways to contain and overcome the problem, such as a temporary ban on imports of live birds from areas which have so far been affected by bird flu.
6) Scientists worldwide are working flat-out to identify and mass-produce a vaccine, and to develop ways of minimising and treating the infection. Many governments are arranging to buy and stockpile massive quantities of the vaccine as soon as it becomes available.
7) Flu epidemics happen every winter, and all of them cause deaths.
8) All flu viruses are potentially lethal, but almost all are survived by far more people every year than die of them.
9) The much-quoted 1918 outbreak caused so many deaths partly because the countries it affected were exhausted and underfed after 4 years of the most devastating war mankind had ever known, and many people simply didn't have the strength to fight infection. That flu strain also came from birds, but many flu strains do, including several which have proved much milder.
10) The avian flu virus is a particularly severe one, and medical science has yet to develop a totally effective antidote -- but it is survivable, and at present relatively hard to catch. The real danger will come if it becomes able to spread easily between humans. So far, there have been far more deaths from SARS than bird flu.
You can keep up-to-date with any changes in the situation by checking with your doctor or the World Health Organization... but in the meantime, be positive. One of the biggest boosts that you can give your immune system comes from a healthy lifestyle, a vigorous, energetic attitude and a keen determination to meet the challenge, and surmount it.
That clear intention can help you mobilise all the resources of your mind and body to prevent, or if need be to recover from, infection.
Go for it!
Aislinn O'Connor is a motivational writer and personal development consultant. You can read more of her articles at http://www.Access-Your-Peak-Performance-Zone.com