So it's official as of this AM:
Officials confirmed Saturday that the H5N1 strain of bird flu had been found in turkeys on a commercial farm _ Britain's first mass outbreak of the disease that has ravaged Asia's poultry stocks and killed more than 160 people worldwide.
The virus strain that killed about 2,500 turkeys on the British poultry farm was identified as the highly pathogenic Asian strain, similar to a virus found in Hungary in January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
As i wrote on today's open thread, according to the BBC, Prof. John Oxford is speculating that perhaps a small bird came through a ventilation shaft. The extent of virus in the smaller bird population beyond ducks and geese is unknown. But the idea that poultry in developed countries can be infected remains relevant. BTW, cooking birds kills the virus, and the likelihood of a resultant human case is small. These birds were too young to get into the food supply in any case. Still, it's a problem that has not gone away (and because it's the UK there will be a flurry of news - it took them by surprise).
This all follows the release of the CDC's Community Mitigation Strategy on Thursday, which is a remarkable document that lays out a variable approach to pandemics based on severity. It treats pandemics like hurricanes, assigning a category score from 1-5. A cat 4/5 pandemic would require severe measures such as closing the schools for up to 3 months (the social disruption would be justified by the desire to save lives) whereas milder cat 1 or cat 2 pandemics would require simpler measures.
The idea of the more extreme social distancing measures would be to reduce the number of deaths and delay the onset of morbidity and mortality so as to better allow existing facilities (i.e., hospitals and health care workers) to cope.
While I have been critical of CDC in the past, I must give them credit for pulling together an extremely sophisticated plan while trying to coordinate the differing needs of a host of federal agencies from the Department of Education to the Department of Homeland Security. Even more remarkable is the level of consultation with various stakeholders, including the public, that took place prior to the release of these guidelines. But the difficult task of implementing these recommendations both at state and local level, figuring out how to even track unlicensed day care, work with colleges and health care workers, etc. has only begun.
As long as there's time, some or most of these measures can be implemented, and some or most of the hurdles can be surmounted. The unanswerable question is "how much time do we have?" That's where the UK story comes in to remind us that while there's no evidence of an imminent pandemic, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns make any predictions extremely chancy. This H5N1 is one nasty virus and the work to implement the community mitigation strategies needs to be done in parallel with the work on a pandemic vaccine (and that's merely the complete rebuilding and restructuring of how vaccines are made, distributed and administered... all without knowing if H5N1 or some other virus is the pandemic strain). Hopefully, the vaccine work is completed before the non-pharmaceutical mitigation in necessary.
Pandemic interest by the public waxes and wanes. But rebuilding public health infrastructure is something that needs to be supported whether incidents like the UK H5N1 outbreak are in the news or not. If attention begets support, funds and political will, so be it. This outbreak in turkeys is going to cost the UK some dollar equivalents, but it's a wake-up call for the kind of work that needs to be done there and here.