Boy, I’m cheery today. It’s like the blog version of the old Hee Haw sketch: “Gloom, despair, and agony on me…”
Scientists have long forecast the appearance of an influenza virus capable of infecting 40 percent of the world’s human population and killing unimaginable numbers. Recently, a new strain, H5N1 avian influenza, has shown all the earmarks of becoming that disease. Until now, it has largely been confined to certain bird species, but that may be changing.
The havoc such a disease could wreak is commonly compared to the devastation of the 1918-19 Spanish flu, which killed 50 million people in 18 months. But avian flu is far more dangerous. … [A]s of May 1, about 109 people were known to have contracted it, and it killed 54 percent (although this statistic does not include any milder cases that may have gone unreported).
In short, doom may loom. But note the “may.” If the relentlessly evolving virus becomes capable of human-to-human transmission, develops a power of contagion typical of human influenzas, and maintains its extraordinary virulence, humanity could well face a pandemic unlike any ever witnessed.
To compare, the case fatality rate of the Spanish Flu was between 2% and 5%. 54% is almost impossible to imagine. We’re talking Rider on a Pale Horse here. A billion dead is not impossible.
What’s especially significant about this article is that it’s in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, the official publication of the Council on Foreign Relations. The CFR, regardless of whether you buy into the conspiracy theories or not, is a very influential body with high-ranking members of the United States government.
If the CFR believes H5N1 is a threat, it’s a threat–or they want us to think so.