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SYDNEY: The outbreak of bird flu that is spreading across South Asia is rapidly taking on the proportions of a global health crisis. The World Health Organisation says bird flu poses the single biggest threat to the world, and there are doubts as to whether we possess the tools to confront it adequately.

WHO has calculated that if the virus mutates into a form capable of human transmission, then the most optimistic scenario would see from 2 million to 7 million deaths and tens of millions of cases worldwide. The 1918-19 flu pandemic killed between 20 and 40 million people, including more than 12,000 in Australia. Are we looking at a repeat and, if so, how well prepared are we?

The British influenza pandemic contingency plan conservatively estimates the number of cases from a pandemic at 25 per cent of the population, with a mortality rate of between 0.37 per cent and 2.5 per cent. Extrapolating this to Australia would result in 4 million cases of flu and between 15,000 and 100,000 deaths. Extraordinary pressure would be placed on health facilities, including a 25 per cent rise in hospital admissions and about 800,000 GP consultations.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (by Peter Curson)

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