"Last week the threat felt ever more real in Britain when it emerged that avian flu had moved out of South East Asia and infected 2,000 birds in Turkey. Yesterday it was announced by the Veterinary Laboratory Agency in Weybridge that the lethal strain - H5N1 - had marched across Europe's border, killing birds in Romania.
Is it time to panic? Is bird flu's transference to humans inevitable? Will hundreds of thousands die in Britain? Will millions die around the world? How is the government dealing with it? Is there a cure? What should we be doing now? ...
On Thursday, Donaldson [Chief Medical Officer] will present an updated version of the British emergency contingency plan that estimates that a flu pandemic would infect one in four of the population, killing 53,000 people in Britain and millions worldwide. The plans have been made around the 'most likely scenario', according to Donaldson, but officials at the Civil Contingency
Secretariat of the cabinet have warned that, at worst, deaths could rise much higher - up to 700,000."
It is perhaps worth putting this into perspective. The UK has a population of about 55 million; assuming an average lifespan of 75, one might expect more than 700,000 to die each year. Inevitably, those dying in any year will tend to be the old, the infirm and the weak, precisely those who might be most expected to succumb to bird flu. This is not to deny that bird flu may bring about additional deaths but - if the figures quoted above are reliable - let us not pretend that the world is about to come to an end or that our way of life will need to change radically. If this is complacency, then put it down to the previous forecast pandemics - SARS, CJE, etc - that never really justified the lurid prophecies from the media.