Why is it that all of us must worry about a virus that is oceans
away? The core of the threat lies in the fact that a carrier may walk about in
our midst, even cough, sneeze at close range, and yet show no symptoms of bird
There is an incubation period between the time that a person
catches the bird flu virus and the onset of symptoms. A runny nose, a wet
cough, fever, and heavy breathing are warning signs. Some people may carry the
virus and not show any symptoms indefinitely. Yet discharge from their mouths,
noses and eyes can make us ill.
The bird flu virus is concentrated in East Asia. Rural
communities and families, who stay in slums in cities, live amongst chickens
and pigs. Such proximity makes it easy for the bird flu virus to jump to
humans, especially children on poor diets. The bird flu virus has reached Europe already.
International air travel and sharing closed air circulation
systems increase the risk of the bird flu virus jumping from one human to
another. A person who has been to an Asian country in the past fortnight and
who coughs, sneezes, breathes hard and seems to be in distress, should be a
clear red flag for everyone within a radius of a few feet. This can be a
delicate matter with guests in a heated or air-conditioned office or home, and
unmanageable in aircraft, trains and movie theatres.
Our bodies have powerful immune systems to fight the bird flu
virus, should it ever enter our bodies by accident. Human blood has two kinds
of lymphocytes that are the major weapons against the bird flu virus. Improper
and unbalanced nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, uncontrolled diabetes, and
chemical and radiation treatment for cancer, reduce lymphocyte counts, and make
people especially vulnerable to bird flu attack.
A virus can easily and frequently change form, so only those
exposed to the virus should use vaccines such as Tamiflu. People who live with
infected birds and healthcare and veterinary professionals who work to manage
people and birds with the virus, need vaccines most. The rest of us should just
eat balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables exercise regularly and
keep blood sugar under tight control.
It is best to check with your primary care physician whether you
need a lymphocyte count check in case you have occasion to share a heated or air-conditioned
room with a person who shows signs of flu or with someone who has just returned
from a trip to a place affected by the bird flu virus.
The bird flu virus could also reach our shores through migratory
birds. Animals and people that live near sites used by flocks every autumn and spring
are vulnerable, though the probability of virus transfer by such a route is low
unless people hunt and slaughter the birds for their meat.
It is futile to expect the administration to do all the work to
keep bird flu at bay. Local communities need to be aware of the potential for
infection. It is up to each of us to take affirmative action to safeguard our
wellness and that of loved ones who depend on us. The issue at stake goes
beyond the bird flu, and relates to public hygiene and to maintaining
individual immune systems in top condition. The virus, in this sense, can serve
a productive purpose, by forcing each of us to take stock of our vulnerability
to the 21st century style of close international contact in which we