Life imitates 'art'. In a story reminiscent of 'The Cassandra Crossing' a train in Canada has been placed under quarantine after one passenger died and several others reported 'flu-like symptoms'.

The authorities say they do not believe there is a connection between the death and the illnesses.

That's a statement which doesn't hold true. It would be more credible to say 'we don't believe there is a connection, but we are investigating the possibility on the precautionary principle'.

Update: The semantic issues above aside, the train has been given the all-clear.

'Deadly' Bird Flu

It's really starting to bug me how nobody can talk of the H5N1 virus without adding a word like 'Deadly' or 'Lethal' in front of it.

Inevitably this causes people to worry and then calls go out for people to not panic, feeding the cycle.

Currently it is neither lethal or deadly. It really isn't. Since 2003 H5N1 has killed less than 100 people worldwide. Regular flu kills many more people each year, here are the figures for the USA. Last week, in the UK some 10000 people died from respiratory illnesses (though none reported as influenza).

Granted, should H5N1 mutate to be transmissable between humans then we have a problem - we're overdue a pandemic. Remember SARS? That was to be the next big pandemic.

Yes, it is true that flu viruses mutate. It is also true that these mutations can have disasterous consequences - however there is nothing to say that a particular virus will mutate. What is certain is that it will happen. Sometime.

We're currently on the lowest possible level of pandemic alert., admittedly, level 3 (out of 6 where 6 is pandemic) is the highest the alert has been in about 40 years.

Whilst we wait for that, let's not blow things up out of proportion. H5N1 is not a nice thing, if you're a duck.

It is not currently transmissable between humans - and so this does not a pandemic make. Regular flu is much more of a problem as of right now - but it's less newsworthy.

Yes, H5N1 should be monitored. Yes, we should be alert to the possibility of mutation, and act quickly if it does. However, let's not scaremonger... doing so will only lead to the 'Cry Wolf' syndrome.

Until it does mutate, let's just talk of H5N1 and not 'The Lethal H5N1 Virus', shall we?

Further Reading:

SARS: Here to stay?

According to the Times of India, SARS is here to stay, the BBC confirms this opinion.

There have been reports that China has been covering up it's true extent of SARS infection, if true, this could be very damaging long term.

It's just been reported that SARS may have reached South Africa, and that a case has shown up in SouthWestern Ontario (the first in the area, though Ontario has had several cases. Texas has also had some cases, as have several other countries.


As you will no doubt be aware, there is currently a scare on about something called 'SARS'. Whilst I'm amazed that none of the talking heads have tried to play on fears of a biological attack, I'm quite thankful for it. To my mind SARS doesn't seem virulent enough, for such an attack. However, with my wife in Kolkata at the moment, I wasn't happy to be reading about the fact that though SARS is not a problem, common pneumonia is. Ah well, last time she went they were having a few cases of plague.