CDC Warns Clinicians to Watch for Deadly H5N1 Bird Flu

On January 15th, 2014, AlertsUSA issued the following
Flash message to subscriber mobile devices:

1/15
New CDC advisory warns clinicians to consider poss of Avian Influenza A(H5N1) in cases of severe resp illness + recent travel abroad after death in Alberta.

On Wed of this week, AlertsUSA subscribers were notified via text messages to their mobile devices that the CDC had issued an advisory to medical clinicians nationwide warning that consideration should be given to the possibility of an H5N1 bird flu infection in persons meeting the following criteria:

New-onset severe acute respiratory illness requiring hospitalization…

and

Recently travel abroad to countries where human cases of H5N1 bird flu
have been detected, or where the virus is known to be circulating in animals.

These countries include China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and about 45 others.

The warning comes after the Public Health Agency of Canada reported the first confirmed case of human infection with avian influenza A (H5N1) virus identified in North America. The patient, a female nurse in Alberta, fell ill while returning from a 3-week trip to Beijing. How she was exposed to the virus remains unknown as she had no contact with poultry during her trip.

Readers may wonder why all the fuss over a single death?

There are a number of reasons, one of which is that according to the World Health Organization, at least 60% of cases classified as H5N1 result in death, and a particularly gruesome one at that. According to the CDC, most reports of H5N1 in humans have described severe illness, including pneumonia leading to respiratory failure, encephalitis, septic shock, internal bleeding, brain inflammation, multi-organ failure and more.

Further, research has shown that a highly contagious strain of H5N1 can be reached in only a few mutations, raising concerns about pandemics and bioterrorism.

So concerned are health authorities with these possibilities that in November of last year the FDA approved a fast-tracked experimental vaccine known as Q-Pan for the national stockpile.

Additionally, consider the following broad steps taken by public health authorities to prepare for a possible severe influenza pandemic:

On Aug 15, 2013 it was announced that the Centers for Disease Control and the American Assoc. of Poison Control Centers are rapidly establishing a “National Nurse Triage Line” using the 211 phone number for a Severe Influenza Pandemic. The 211 line will be used in “managing ill persons with influenza-like illness during a severe pandemic,” to “electronically or telephonically transfer authorized prescriptions to local pharmacies,” and otherwise “manage callers with influenza-like symptoms during a severe pandemic.

On May 10, 2013 the CDC issued a presolicitation announcement of their intended $600 million dollar acquisition of 512 million syringes, alcohol prep pads and other related products necessary to meet the vaccine administration needs of the American public during a pandemic influenza event.

Clearly U.S. public health authorities see potential for potential for a pandemic influenza event.

RESOURCES:

CDC: General information about avian influenza viruses and how they spread

CDC: Past Outbreaks of Avian Influenza in North America

CDC: Transmission of Avian Influenza A Viruses Between Animals and People

WHO: FAQs on avian influenza A(H5N1) virus

BirdFlu211.com: Preparedness guidance for surviving a Bird Flu (H7N9, H7N7, H5N1) Pandemic

Contagion (Movie):  A 2011 medical thriller depicting a pandemic event. Produced with CDC consulting, the movie was praised by the scientific community for it’s accuracy.