Wednesday, November 16, 2005


You wouldn’t think it, but the bird flu is making an impact even way over here. Ian had a briefing yesterday at work on the subject. Here’s a quick breakdown of Embassy plans.

Currently, there is no confirmed case of bird flu in all of Africa. Concern arises with migratory bird patterns and since some crazy birds actually fly thousands of miles across continents and oceans you can figure out the potential problem. A friend of ours in Kuwait said they have a case of bird flu in a migratory flamingo. I’m really not kidding.
So the briefing discussed our options, which are pretty straightforward. This is how I understand it (clarifications and corrections later):
A) Should bird flu in a bird be confirmed anywhere in Africa, our Authorized Departure orders will be drawn up.
B) Should bird flu in a bird be confirmed anywhere in Togo, Authorized Departure orders will be given out. That means non-essential personnel (yours truly and the rugrats) can leave on the gov’t dime if they wish.
C) Should bird flu be confirmed in a person anywhere on the continent, non-essential personnel get Immediate Departure.
D) Should human to human transmission be confirmed anywhere on the continent, essentially the Mission shuts down.
This raises interesting questions of course, as our friends in Beijing are already discovering. They have their Authorized Evacuation papers already drawn up, waiting to be dispersed. Their system is a little different than ours because bird flu has been present in Asia for a while now, and they have the Tamiflu vaccine (edited: Tamiflu isn't a vaccine, it's an antiviral med. It hasn't been proven against avian flu. 28 Oct 2005: "Tamiflu is a prescription pill designed to treat regular flu. But it also seems to offer some protection to people against the type of flu that has devastated Asian poultry flocks and is spreading to birds in Europe.") available to Embassy personnel. If people in China or the neighboring countries fell ill (and falling ill isn’t a joke, there’s a 50% mortality rate in human cases), they’d be under Evacuation orders. Of course, then there are other issues… how safe are the travelers on the planes? What if borders start shutting down? One friend in Beijing is traveling to the States to complete the Naturalization process, another friend in Beijing is traveling to New Zealand in December for her R&R. Would folks be able to leave China or enter the States? Will countries shut their borders if you arrive from a confirmed bird flu country? What if you can’t get back? If people decide to wait it out in-country, they’ll be house-bound, potentially for months.
We don’t have Tamiflu in Togo and goodness knows we don’t have the medical infrastructure here to deal with a bird flu epidemic. Emily is a vegetarian so the bird flu isn’t a great concern to her but yesterday, she told me of some chickens that had snuck into her buildings courtyard. Here’s the thing: bird flu isn’t something to catch from eating cooked fowl or eggs. The people most as risk are those around live fowl. Like poultry farms and processing plants, chicken coups and outdoor market places. Or just walking down the street past flocks of chickens pecking their next meal.
Asia has a problem. So does Africa.
Edited to Add: I flipped through and right after posting this, and wouldn't you know, China has had it's first confirmed human death in a poultry factory worker.

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