Officials in at least two nations now suspect the avian flu bug has mutated into a virus that is being transmitted from human to human – a development world health authorities have estimated could result in the deaths of tens of millions.
Thai health officials have expressed concern that the country's two latest confirmed victims may be the beginning of the much feared human-to-human transmission.
Dr. Charoen Chuchottaworn, an avian-flu expert at the Public Health Ministry, said doctors reviewing the cases were alerted by the very mild symptoms present in both patients, neither of whom had had any recent contact with birds or poultry.
The doctors are unsure as to how either of the infected contracted the disease and have raised the possibility that the virus has traded its pathogenicity for ease of transmission.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the disease is spreading so rapidly, particularly in the capital of Jakarta, some health officials strongly suspect the long-dreaded mutation has already occurred.
"There are just too many people who have it," said one doctor. "In many cases, it is difficult to establish any contact with birds."
And they point to a rosy future if the mutation has occured...
With one small genetic adjustment in Influenza A, or H5N1, millions of people could die, warns World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific Shigeru Omi. Omi has called for health ministers and representatives to launch an all-out war on the deadly strain.
If the virus acquires sufficient human genes, allowing transmission from one person to another, an estimated 2 million to 7.4 million people around the world could die, the WHO estimates.
Some health officials make even more dire predictions. They point to the great flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed far more people worldwide than died in World War I – an estimated 40 to 50 million people.
And I feel fine...