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Human avian flu cases at lowest level since outbreak began

By Michael Fumento

Yes, I'm the guy who has written that it's not so much the number of humans infected by birds that counts in determining the likelihood of a human avian flu pandemic but rather whether the disease changes so as to become more transmissible between humans. As I observed in my December 15 Weekly Standard article, "The Chicken Littles Were Wrong:"

The latest "scary news," promulgated in the November 23 [2006] issue of the New England Journal of Medicine by uber-alarmist Robert Webster of St. Jude Memorial Children's Hospital, is that human cases of H5N1 contracted from birds are continuing to increase. Indeed, confirmed cases for 2006 are running ahead of those for last year. But the difference is slight; 97 worldwide for all of last year versus 111 through the end of November 2006. This difference could be entirely explained by better surveillance. Moreover, the real concern is not sporadic bird-to-human transmission, but human-to-human transmission.

The Chicken Littles, conversely, have cited bird-to-human cases for no other reason than that those cases have been rising yearly since the latest outbreak began in 2003 and that generally speaking there's really nothing new with which to spook people. To that, I've pointed out the rise has actually been slowing. But now, while it's a bit early to say, it looks like they're now actually falling. Specifically, human avian cases flu spikes at around this time each year as this bar graph shows clearly. Cases for the last season were 12 in November, six in December, and 25 in January 2006. For this season it's 2, 5, and 7 respectively.

Mind you, in 2004 the peak month wasn't until March so we won't know until the WHO releases its March data to see how mild the season may turn out. But at this point, the lack of cases is looking to be quite tragic for the doomsayers. Stay tuned.

January 29, 2007 01:49 PM  ·  Diseases (other than AIDS and cancer)