April 14, 2005

Avian flu

Via Tyler Cowen's new and wonderful Avian Flu blog (specifically here) comes this Baltimore Sun article: 150 volunteers roll up sleeves for test of avian flu vaccine. It's actually pretty good. Check out the intro:

It was, in part, the tombstones that drew him.

As he rolled up his sleeve yesterday to receive one of the first doses of a new experimental flu vaccine, Vic Maslanka recalled the cemetery where he mowed grass as a child. Many of the headstones bore the same date: 1918.

His parents later explained the significance. It was the year the Spanish flu arrived and killed tens of millions around the globe. Two of the names on the tombstones, Maslanka discovered, were those of relatives.

So when he heard that the University of Maryland School of Medicine was preparing to test a vaccine designed to stop avian flu - a potential successor to that killer virus of 1918 - Maslanka quickly signed on.

"This was personal," says the 48-year-old Monrovia engineer...

Unfortunatly, later down I'm strongly suspicious that the journalist is throwing around data which is less grounded in reality than he thinks:

But it's not a death count that has scientists spooked. About 70 percent of people infected with avian flu die from it. The mortality rate for the Spanish flu, by comparison, was less than 3 percent.

70 percent is likely a very high estimate of the true mortality rate.

Let's through in some caveats. This is a mortality rate of 70 percent for

A. People who contracted Avian flu
B. ... and grew sick enough to justify diagnosis by a medical doctor who identified it as Avian flu.

Most of the folks diagnosed are not going to be ones that are just throwing off the infection. You're not going to call in the doctor for someone who's just been feeling lousy for a few days. This is particularly the case given the poverty rates in Vietnam and Thailand, which have been hit by the brunt of the infection.

I'm still tied up at work right now (and it's 6AM... argh), but will try and post a bit more about this later.

Posted by jeffreyb at 05:58 AM | Comments (0)