In response to the new bird flu outbreak in China, the CDC is preparing a new bird flu vaccine in case it spreads.
Currently, only a handful of people have become infected—but the mortality rate is very high. The new bird flu, H7N9, isn’t yet spread by human-human transmission, just bird-human, like other forms of bird flu. Bird flu outbreaks are usually limited to people who work closely with the animals, although during the last American bird flu outbreak it was thought those in close proximity did catch it (the distinction being airborne human-human vs. fluid/touch human-human transmission).
But should a bird flu vaccine make you feel safe?
Not really. The flu vaccine, as it’s currently produced, isn’t that good of a vaccine—it’s efficacy is much lower than others. And when you are making them in anticipation, there’s a good risk your formula won’t perfectly match the outbreak.
For a bird flu outbreak to reach us, it would have to become airborne between humans. It has two highly probable paths of mutation: 1) to make a high bred with swine flu or another flu strain, 2) to undergo just a few more random mutations by itself. Either way it has a short path, and it’s predicted some strain will cause a bird flu outbreak in the next few years.
A couple different groups are working on improved flu vaccines, most of which would be universal flu vaccines, in which case they might be a worthwhile defense against bird flu (the official recommendation, however, is that any chance of defense is better than none).
What are your thoughts on bird flu and the current outbreak?