As the headlines warn of a flu that could kill millions and hype and hysteria threaten to confuse and alarm the public, Panorama presents the results of a four-month, worldwide investigation into bird flu and asks whether it is likely to trigger a human pandemic.
Bird Flu: Facing the Pandemic was broadcast on BBC One on November 6 2005.
Speaking to British and international experts and weighing the evidence carefully - even as events are unfolding - Panorama presents a measured account of the development of bird flu, to date, and asks whether it could pose a serious threat to human health. In South East Asia the bird flu virus that recently found its way to Europe, has jumped the species barrier - killing 61 of the 117 humans so far infected, according to current World Health Organisation (WHO) figures. More outbreaks are expected this winter. Panorama has been to Vietnam, the country that has suffered most, to meet the survivors of this deadly virus and the families of those who died. We talk to doctors about the experience of treating bird flu and the risks they face dealing with this virulent disease.
Each human case provides the H5N1 bird flu virus with another chance to mutate and change - increasing the risk that it might adapt to spread easily from person to person. In the event of such an outbreak scientists, politicians and vaccine manufacturers would struggle to prevent the virus spreading rapidly across the globe with potentially devastating results. And scientists agreed such a breakout is now a question of 'when not if'.
Panorama examines the efforts underway to prevent this natural catastrophe, and investigates how ready the world is to face such an international health crisis. How will the global community react when faced with a pandemic flu that experts say could infect one in four people - and could kill millions? We have no immunity to H5N1, but scientifically we know more about flu than ever before. British scientists have been at the forefront of discoveries in this field for decades and are now keen to put their knowledge to use. A panel of experts, brought together by Panorama, discuss whether enough is being done now, in terms of research, vaccine development and the stockpiling of drugs to limit the toll of a future outbreak.
The Department of Health's pandemic plan is analysed in depth and we look at how the new Civil Contingencies Act is obliging local authorities to confront the pandemic threat. From health workers to school children, the strategies which can be put in place to protect those most at risk are being discussed. Resources are limited and there is no way of knowing how much time there is to prepare. Panorama shows how the decisions made so far could affect everyday life during a flu pandemic, and looks at the more difficult choices which every government will have to make in the event of an outbreak.
Reporter: Jane Corbin
Producer: Angeli Mehta
Assistant Producers: Fiona Blair, Katy Stead
Deputy Editors: Andrew Bell, Frank Simmonds
Editor: Mike Robinson