So far, there is no vaccine available to fight avian influenza and there has been a high mortality rate among the handful of people in the world who have contracted it. Almost all have worked directly with poultry. However, once a vaccine is produced, it will be allocated on the basis of past use, says Jamieson. Although it affects everybody, those with HIV could face more complications. Schoub said that although South Africa would likely stockpile Tamiflu, the antiviral drug that acted directly against the influenza virus, it was not yet doing so.
Virus turning into something dangerous
However, he said this would be a relatively small component of any fight against a pandemic strain because even the countries stockpiling it would use it only in high priority cases. It is also not yet licensed in South Africa. Doing so is a process that would take time and money. It is in relatively short supply as other countries stockpile it, even wealthy countries do not have enough, Schoub said.
Schoub added that South Africa drew up a influenza pandemic disaster management plan in 1999 - before the present avian flu alarm. Pandemics are rarer than the influenza strains that come every winter. They come in cycles of 10 to 50 years and the last one was in 1968. Jamieson said that for the first time virologists were watching a virus turn into something dangerous and feared that it could turn into a virus transmissible between humans. We are due for a pandemic, he said. Previous pandemics happened in 1918, 1957 and in 1968. He said that as a worst case scenario, it could be worse than the pandemic of 1918 when between 40 and 100 million people died, if the virus was similarly serious.
(Source: Sapa,7 March, 2005).