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American Morning Comes Down with the Flu

     CNNs got a fever, and the only prescription is more hype. Thats the diagnosis a viewer of the February 21 American Morning could draw from co-host Soledad OBrien clucking about the threat of an avian flu pandemic in the United States. But OBrien and her guest ignored estimates from the World Health Organization that downplayed the threat of a pandemic, which would require rapid human-to-human transmission of avian flu. So far, the disease hasnt been spread from human-to-human and its rarely transmitted from sick birds to humans, with less than 100 deaths in the past three years.

     No human cases of bird flu have been found yet in the United States. And maybe we should underscore the word yet, OBrien warned while introducing her guest, Dr. Irwin Redlener of Columbia Universitys National Center for Disaster Preparedness. While OBrien cued an onscreen graphic which showed that all 92 deaths and 170 human cases are confined to seven Asian countries, she warned that it's fair to say if, and maybe more like when, the bird flu comes -- migrates -- the virus changes and mutates and can be transferred from the animals to people.

     Ignoring the vast difference in hygiene standards in American from Asian poultry processing which contributes to the spread of avian flu, Redlener agreed. He then worked in a liberal talking point on health insurance, worrying that all those 46 million Americans who don't have health insurance, they're sort of like typhoid Marys of days past where they're not getting to the system early and they actually will be a problem when we're talking about pandemic.

     But is a pandemic, a global plague of avian flu really imminent? It doesnt seem so, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO places the threat at a level 3 out of 6, finding that a new influenza virus subtype is causing disease in humans, but is not yet spreading efficiently and sustainability among humans. And according to the federal governments Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The appearance of a new influenza A virus subtype is the first step toward a pandemic; however, to cause a pandemic, the new virus subtype also must have the capacity to spread easily from person to person. Since 1997, most if not all of the deaths from avian flu, the H5N1 virus, have been spread from bird-to-human, not human-to-human.

     The WHO wrote in a February 21 update on the avian flu threat that 13 countries have reported the H5N1 virus in birds since the beginning of February, but only Iraq has reported human cases, and that the available evidence indicates that the virus does not spread easily from poultry to humans very few cases have been detected in poultry workers, cullers, or veterinarians.

     Additionally, the United Nations-chartered health institute found that no cases have been linked to the consumption of properly cooked poultry meat or eggs, even in households where disease was known to be present in flocks, a fact that neither Dr. Redlener nor OBrien share with their breakfast-time audience.