Listen To The Story


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Bird flu has spread more widely in Asia. Fifteen Vietnamese provinces are affected and birds that died of the disease have been found in Hong Kong. When it comes to human cases, five Malaysians with flu-like symptoms were hospitalized last week, and on Saturday a girl in the south of Egypt died. So do these cases mean there's cause to worry that a flu pandemic is more likely? From the Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.

Helen Palmer: Of the 300-odd human cases of bird flu the World Health Organization's recorded, almost two-thirds have been fatal.

Last week, a soldier in China died of bird flu, and of the 99 Indonesians infected 79 have died.

That deadliness has health authorities here worried, says Jeffrey Levi of the advocacy group Trust for America's Health.

Jeffrey Levi: Congress is worried, too, and has been appropriating a significant amount of money to improve the federal government's and state and local preparedness. But we still have a long ways to go.

Now, there's a vaccine for bird flu and a stockpile of antiviral drugs. But Levi says the country's public health delivery system's not at all prepared for a pandemic, and most Americans haven't collected an emergency supply of food and masks.

Why not? Preparedness fatigue, says Levi. It will take a human case much closer to home to scare people into action.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.