India Influenza Outbreak Portends Pandemic

January 30, 2008 by mimmson  
Filed under Flu Pandemic - Top News Stories

An epidemic of avian influenza in West Bengal, India has the Indian “government in panic mode”, according to the Times of India Web site.

And with good reason: 15 million of West Bengal’s 80 million people are crammed into its capital city, Kolkata (Calcutta), which is a petri dish of poverty, pollution, political intransigence and hopeless public health. It is the city where Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity order.

If the infection reaches Kolkata’s poultry markets, there is a much greater risk of animal-to-human transmission than there has been in Indonesia or Vietnam, where infections of H5N1 influenza have already crossed species from animals to humans.

There have been many more human infections of highly-pathogenic influenza in Indonesia (120 cases, 98 deaths) and Vietnam (102 cases, 48 deaths) than in India. There were three outbreaks of avian influenza in India in 2006, but there have been no human deaths there, yet.

But Kolkata is a whole other miasma of misery. The population density of Kolkata is 24,000 people per square kilometer (62,000 per square mile), the second highest in the world. In comparison, the population density of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, is only 3,000 per square kilometer (8,000 per square mile), a fraction of Kolkata’s. Even the density of Jakarta, Indonesia, at 12,500 people per square kilometer (33,000 per square mile), is just half that of Kolkata.

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