Bird Flu Could Kill 150 Million People

The UN is warning that the Asian bird flu could spread to humans and kill up to 150 million people.

Bird flu ‘could kill 150m people’ (BBC)

A new flu pandemic could happen at any time and kill between 5-150 million people, a UN health official warned. David Nabarro, who is charged with co-ordinating responses to bird flu, said a mutation of the virus affecting Asia could trigger new outbreaks. “The consequences in terms of human life when the pandemic does start are going to be extraordinary and very damaging,” Dr Nabarro told the BBC.

Bird flu has swept through poultry and wild birds in Asia since 2003. It has killed huge numbers of birds and lead to more than 60 human deaths. “It’s like a combination of global warming and HIV/Aids 10 times faster than it’s running at the moment,” Dr Nabarro told the BBC.

The UN’s new co-ordinator for avian and human influenza said the likelihood that the Asian virus could mutate and jump to humans was high. Because it has moved to wild migratory birds there is a possibility “that the first outbreak could happen even in Africa or in the Middle East”, he warned.

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He said the number of deaths from any future influenza pandemic would depend on where it started, how quickly it was discovered and the kind of response they got from governments.

The range 5 to 150 is so fantastically large–varying by a factor of 30–that it is essentially the same as saying “we have no clue.” Still, even 5 million deaths would be fantastically large.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.