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Flu Season Makes Bird Flu Fears Stronger; America May Not Be Ready For Flu Pandemic; Childhood Obesity and TV; Go Hiking

Aired December 10, 2005 - 08:30   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news, the deadline to possibly save four Christian hostages in Iraq is today a group calling itself the Swords of Justice Brigades is threatening to execute members of the Christian Peacemaker teams today unless all prisoners in Iraq are released. Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most influential Islamic movements is urging the captors to release the hostages.
Also in Iraq, Iraqi citizens capture a high-ranking member of al Qaeda and handed him over to coalition forces. The man known as "the Butcher" was number three on a list of most wanted terrorists. A U.S. military spokesman says the latest capture is another indication that Iraqi citizens are tired of insurgents in their country.

Nearly one hour ago, U.N. nuclear agency chief Mohamed Elbaradei accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. And Elbaradei is being honored for his efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. And now, a HOUSE CALL that you won't want to miss with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to HOUSE CALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Well, this year's flu season is bringing new fears about a different kind of flu and the potential for a global catastrophe. It's called H5N1, the avian flu or simply put, the bird flu.

Whatever you call it, it could become a worldwide killer.


GUPTA (voice-over): With regular flu, a single sneeze ejects millions of tiny viruses into the air. And the virus can live as long as two days, even on a cold surface like a doorknob.

LAURIE GARRETT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The problem with flu is it is orders of magnitude more contagious than the dreaded Ebola virus, the smallpox which we have been preparing as a nation for as a possible bioterrorist weapon, than just about anything, except common cold.

GUPTA: Now imagine a new flu just as contagious, but killing half its victims. That's the nightmare scenario. Dr. Robert Webster has been studying flu viruses for more than 50 years.

ROBERT WEBSTER, ST. JUDE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: If this virus learns to transmit human to human and maintains that level of killing humans, you've got a global catastrophe. GUPTA: So far, all the human cases are in Southeast Asia, but you can get on an airplane in Bangkok, or Hong Kong, or Jakarta and in a day be in any major city on the planet. A new virus could easily hitch a ride and spread around the world in a matter of weeks.

IRA LONGINI, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: It's a disaster waiting to happen.

GUPTA: A consultant to the World Health Organization, Dr. Ira Longini built a computer simulation, showing how quickly a killer flu might spread starting with a single patient in southeast Asia.

LONGINI: The outbreak starts here.

GUPTA: The yellow dots are new cases. The blue dots are people who are already recovered or dead. You can see how quickly the screen fills up as new patients are infected. In less than a month, it's out of control and on its way to the United States.

They say the chance of a pandemic sits at about 100 percent.


GUPTA: It's going to happen.

LONGINI: It's absolutely going happen. .

FIRDAUS BASKARA, BIRD FLU SURVIVOR (through translator): My full name is Firdaus Baskara. I'm eight years old.

GUPTA: Firdaus, known to his friends and family as Daus, is the nephew of Rinny Dinna, the 40-year-old woman who died of the H5N1 virus in early September. That same week, Daus also tested positive for bird flu.

When a patient gets bird flu, one of the first questions to ask is did they catch it from a bird or another person? If it's another person, we're one step closer to the nightmare scenario.

The home of Rinny Dinna and her husband is in a suburb on the south side of Jakarta, a crowded, sprawling city of more than 10 million people. As in any big city, hospitals see thousands of people with breathing trouble every day.

But Rinny Dinna's condition was severe. So she was tested for bird flu. She died before getting the result. She was the country's second official case.

After Rinny Dinna died, the health department tested dozens of people. Only one was positive for H5N1, her nephew, Daus, although his only symptoms were a mild fever and some aches and pains.

Did the little boy catch it from his aunt? Or did they both catch it somewhere else? The answer is critical. If they got it from each other, it could mean the virus is shifting in a dangerous direction. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And that, of course is what everyone is talking about. Officials say Rinny Dinna contracted the bird flu from fertilizer she used in her house plants made from chicken waste. The fertilizer was contaminated with the bird flu virus.

But investigators say we may never know where her nephew caught the virus, if it was passed from her, or contaminated soil, or somewhere else entirely.

Joining us to try and answer the questions about the dangers of the bird flu is Dr. Tim Uyeki of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has worked with Indonesian scientists to investigate the latest bird flu cases. He's also investigated SARS and other respiratory diseases around the world. We're lucky to have you on the show. I appreciate it.


GUPTA: And you have washed your hands, right, because...

UYEKI: I always wash my hands.

GUPTA: All right. Hey, look, you know, lots of questions coming in about bird flu. People are curious. Some people are just plain frightened. Lots of e-mails.

Let's try and get to the first one right away.

UYEKI: Sure.

GUPTA: Let's start with our first e-mail. The first e-mail question came from Dwain from Mulberry, Florida, who asks, "Is the bird flu a real threat or just political hype?" And that's a general question, but what do you say to the citizens who are saying, you know, is the sky falling or not?

UYEKI: Well, the sky is not falling, but this is a big threat. We're very concerned about this situation, primarily in southeast Asia. We have an enormous problem, particularly among poultry in so many Asian countries. And this problem is really not going away any time soon. It's probably here for years.

The problem is there have been at least 135 people and 69 deaths due to infection with this H5N1 virus. And just in 2005, we've had three new countries that have reported human cases of H5N1. That includes Cambodia, Indonesia, and China. So this virus is a threat. It is causing severe respiratory disease and killing some people in Asia, but it is actually a very rare disease to get.

It's really a small number of people, compared to all the populations in these countries and all the chickens, all the potential cases that could occur.

GUPTA: Right. UYEKI: So right now, it's a rare disease, but we're very, very concerned about what could happen in the future if this virus does acquire the ability to really go from person to person to person in what we call a sustained manner.

GUPTA: And it is killing over half the people, as you pointed out, 69 out of 135. And that's why people are paying so much attention to it.

UYEKI: It causes very severe disease, typically severe pneumonia. People have to go on what we call mechanical ventilation, the breathing machine. And many of those people are dying.

GUPTA: OK. Well, we have lots of e-mails as I mentioned. Several e-mails came in like this. This one from Ruth in Anderson, Indiana. She asks, "Will the flu shot this year give me any protection against the bird flu?" And I think she's referring to just the regular flu shot.

UYEKI: Right. So every year around the world, we have human influenza viruses, the flu viruses, circulating in people. And we're just beginning our influenza season, flu season in the U.S. And we know that we for sure are going have influenza in the U.S.

But this is human influenza. And it is completely unrelated to this H5N1 avian influenza in Asia. So the problem is that the vaccine will not protect you against avian influenza virus infection. It protects you from human influenza viruses.

GUPTA: And you made a point earlier that you should still get the flu shot because just regular influenza's a big problem as well.

UYEKI: Well, it's a certainty that we are going have the flu season in the U.S. And in an average influenza season, we have 36,000 people that die and more than 200,000 people that are hospitalized due to complications of the flu. That's an average season in the U.S. That's a certainty.

What's uncertain is whether or not H5N1 is going to come to the U.S. or develop into this global pandemic.

GUPTA: And hold that thought, because we're really going to drill down on that particular issue. More of your e-mails about bird flu coming up. Plus...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A national check-up. The president says we're gearing up, but is America ready to respond to a flu pandemic? The answer may surprise you.

And how to protect yourself and your family. One expert talks about how he is preparing for the worst. That and more as we continue the rounds on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: All right, we're back with HOUSE CALL. We're talking about the potential for a bird flu pandemic. Is America ready to take on the killer flu?


GUPTA (voice-over): We all remember the horrifying images from the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But some health experts say if Americans don't prepare immediately, the human suffering could be even more painful during a worst case flu pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

GUPTA: Under the president's national strategy for pandemic influenza, the federal government will stockpile vaccine and drugs to protect Americans.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I'm asking did that the Congress fund $1.2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase enough doses of this vaccine for manufacturers to vaccinate 20 million people.

GUPTA: But the vaccine is still in clinical trials. It isn't approved by the FDA. And you can't go to your doctor's office and get it.

And the amount of vaccine the president is talking about would be enough to vaccinate only one in 14 Americans, and only if the virus doesn't change significantly.

If a vaccine isn't available to stop a pandemic, what else might? Like many countries, the United States government is attempting to stockpile two anti-viral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza that might be helpful. Some European countries are stockpiling enough for 25 percent of their populations, but the U.S. only has enough to treat about two percent. It could take two years before the goal of 25 percent can be met.

Even if we did have enough Tamiflu or Relenza, are scientists sure they would even work? None of these drugs have actually been tested against bird flu. And what about the things most people haven't even thought about?

ULSTER HOLMES: And we can assure that things like flu, basic healthcare, the kinds of things around security are all there. We've got to do that now.

GUPTA: In fact, Holmes says in the disasters of Katrina, we find lessons for the flu.

HOLMES: Imagine being in the hospital setting that we saw in New Orleans, seven to 10 days which is an absolute horrific situation brought these people to the very edge of their capability. Now imagine having to try to do that for 12 to 18 months.

GUPTA: Ulster Holmes says many of the problems we saw after Katrina would be magnified in pandemic flu. Grocery store shelves would be empty. Mail could stop. There would likely be a gasoline shortage. What are you doing to prepare?

HOLMES: I brought some maps. And I have stockpiled some food. And I think at the very least, I also have a plan to communicate with my family. I know what we're going do. I know where we're going to go.

GUPTA: And a personal and a national plan to survive the flu is very important. We're joined again by Dr. Tim Uyeki of the CDC to help answer more of your questions about the killer flu.

Lots of e-mails coming in on this. David in Tyler, Texas asked this question. "When the bird flu virus mutates, what can we do to minimize the risk of catching it and minimizing its effects once infected?"

Now you've already sort of talked about this a little bit, but personal protection, anything you can do?

UYEKI: Well, the good news is it hasn't mutated to spread in a sustained manner from person to person. If that does, it does reach the U.S. Then this will be a risk for all of us.

Now there are trials right now to develop and come up with a vaccine against H5N1. And once there is -- if the pandemic does start, and it's due to H5N1, there will be more accelerated development and production of an H5N1 vaccine.

So other than that, there are antiviral drugs for treatment of influenza, as well as potential pandemic influenza. Those will be used for treatment of patients as well as protection of other people.

We need to start preparing to do a better job with trying to prevent and control human influenza...

GUPTA: Right.

UYEKI: ...just the regular flu season in the U.S.

GUPTA: All right, and the vaccine, will it work? Because my understanding is they have a vaccine now for a certain virus, that if the virus changes, the vaccine that exists today may not work.

UYEKI: Well, one of the challenges of the flu is that these viruses keep changing. They keep evolving. And we don't know if H5N1 is going to become the pandemic. But if it does, it's possible that it may change compared to the vaccines that are in development right now.

So the key will be really trying to identify and keep up with those changes and to rapidly produce a vaccine that's really targeted against that specific strain.

GUPTA: That is the goal. And they're making 8 million doses of the existing vaccine by February. We are talking with Dr. Tim Uyeki of the Centers for Disease Control. He is a disease detective. And he'll take more of your e-mail questions, coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could surviving other flu outbreaks make you immune of an impending pandemic? And what about your pet bird? Could they be carriers of the killer flu? Details next.

But first, more of this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse".


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For people who were worried about having a flu mist vaccine made from a live flu virus sprayed up their noses, a study released by in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" says of the two and a half million patients that have had the flu mist, only 460 people had any bad effects.

Milk may do a body good, but now coffee may do your memory good. Austrian researchers found a couple of cups of coffee can help short- term memory. A recent study showed that men who were given water containing the same amount of caffeine as about two cups of coffee had improved short-term memory.

Christy Feig, CNN.


GUPTA: We've been talking about the bird flu and answering viewer questions about a possible pandemic. Dr. Tim Uyeki of the CDC is our guest.

You know, it's been amazing because so many people are interested in bird flu and have lots of questions. There are people who are panicked. There are people who couldn't care less.

Let's get to some of the e-mail questions that were sort of representative. Who might have immunity to the deadly virus is a topic that a lot of people asked about.

Avril in Boston asked this question. "My mother had the flu in 1918. And I had flu in 1957 and 1968. These outbreaks have been listed as forms of bird flu. Do I have a natural immunity to H5N1?"

UYEKI: No, the answer is no. The 1918 virus strain was what we call H1N1. '68, '69 was H3N2. '57, '58 was H2N2. These are different subtypes of influenza.

H5N1 is completely different. So unfortunately, there would be no previous immunity.

GUPTA: That's great that you can list all those various proteins right off the top of your head. I guess you just have to memorize that stuff, huh? It sort of comes to you naturally.

Lots of questions also coming in about pets specifically. Lilith at Harvard, Massachusetts asks this. "Are pet birds, such as parrots, susceptible to H5N1? If so, what can bird owners do to protect pets and ourselves?"

And again, you said this already, Dr. Uyeki, that there is no bird flu in North America.

UYEKI: Well, there's no H5N1 in North America, the highly pathogenic...

GUPTA: Right.

UYEKI: ...the virus that's going around Asia right now. So it's not in wild birds. It's not in poultry. It's not in people. There's never been an H5N1 human case in the U.S.

So this is not a concern at the moment for pet bird owners in the U.S.

GUPTA: All right. Lots of good information here. Lots of people at home obviously concerned about this. When we come back, we're going to try and give you actual news, flu news that you can use.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Plus in our continuing series on obesity and young people, what some colleges are doing to fight the battle of the bulge on campus. Stay tuned to HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. Here at HOUSE CALL, we are committed to covering the battle against childhood obesity. Now as part of our series, Kelly Callahan has a new view on television and kids.


KELLY CALLAHAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two new studies show watching television may be adding to the obesity problems of adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest kids watch no more than two hours of television a day.

The new research published in "The Journal of Pediatrics" adds to evidence that increased TV viewing can lead to unhealthy habits, like inactivity and eating in front of the television.

In one study, researchers found when five-year-olds watch more than two hours of TV a day, their risk of obesity as an adult increases.

While another small study of girls and their parents found girls who watched more than the recommended amount of television a day were two and a half times more likely be overweight than girls who watched less television.

A tip from experts, parents should take TVs out of children's bedrooms. For many, the problem will not be caught early on, which is why some colleges are taking a stand. At some traditional black colleges like Spelman, they have revamped the dining hall, serving up fresh vegetable entrees and sugar-free goodies. Spelman also has a program for obese students and offers campus-wide education.

Student Health Services Director Brenda Dalton says obesity is taking its toll on the fast food generation.

BRENDA DALTON, SPELMAN COLLEGE: It is not uncommon to see our students get a plate full of carbohydrates and no protein and no fats to go with that. And it's not a balanced meal.

So a lot of what we do is education.

CALLAHAN: Officials hope by catching kids while they're still in school, whether kindergarten or college, will help students learn to make better choices when they are really on their own.

Kelly Callahan, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: All right, Kelly, thank you so much. Get online and get informed with where to find the very latest on the bird flu. That's coming up when HOUSE CALL returns.

But first, take a hike with the "Bod Squad."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And look at this. This is the prettiest garden. And nobody had anything to do with planting it.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Looking for beautiful scenery, simplicity, solitude and a good sweat? Go hiking. More and more people are getting out of the gym. Fallan Holloway recently got hooked on hiking and says anyone can do it.

FALLAN HOLLOWAY, HIKER: Well, I love hiking. It t gets my heart going. And I just feel better after I do it. It feels like my blood is flowing right. .

COSTELLO: National park ranger Jerry Hightower says being close to nature is healing.

JERRY HIGHTOWER, NATIONAL PARK RANGER: It sort of puts your life in perspective. It helps reduce that stress. So it makes you a more productive individual. And that, in turn, helps you be more healthy in terms of your physical health as well.

COSTELLO: And he says corporations are even building their own trails into parks to help their employees reduce stress.

Carol Costello, CNN.



GUPTA: For more information on the bird flu and efforts to contain a possible pandemic, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site at the or

Dr. Tim Uyeki's been our guest today. Really important advice. Good information about the bird flu. What would you like to tell America, you know, as a final thought?

UYEKI: We do not have the H5N1 bird flu in the U.S. It's not in North America. It's not in wild birds. It's not in poultry. It's not in people. That's good news. This virus doesn't have the ability to go readily from person to person. It is a serious problem in Asia. We need to do a better job at trying to control this problem. We need to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic, but what is a certainly is we're going to have the influenza season hitting us in the U.S., the human season flu, and we need to do a better job at controlling and preventing that.

GUPTA: I hope you come back and join us again sometime, maybe, you know, when the season ends to -- we'll sort of go over what happened in the season, what went right, what went wrong. Thank you very much for you time.

UYEKI: Thanks. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Be sure to tune in Sunday night for my special. It's called "KILLER FLU, A BREATH AWAY" at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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