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Bird Flu - Archives


January 14th - January 23rd, 2006

New Zealand’s Pandemic Panic

What is it with New Zealand (where I was born)? It’s unlikely to be any more affected by bird flu than any other Western nation, and as a remote island country might be even less hurt. Yet it seems the government and media there have gone bananas over the prospect of a pandemic. It’s prompted this reaction:


The government's preparations for a possible outbreak of bird flu are being panned as being completely over the top.

This week the Ministry of Health began distributing leaflets explaining how New Zealanders should prepare for a possible pandemic. It is already stockpiling shots of the ant-viral drug Tamiflu.

But Macquarie University professor Peter Curson, from Australia, said New Zealand is getting into a flap over nothing. He said the government is reacting to something that is very unlikely to happen.

Peter Curson said the country would be better off declaring a pandemic of some of the real health problems it has, like diabetes and obesity.


And here’s another commentary:


Is it not time the New Zealand Herald [the country’s biggest daily newspaper] was renamed the New Zealand Hysteria? Such a change would certainly seem justified after a bizarre article this week on how to survive the eschatological ravages of H5N1.


Readers were advised to stock up on bottled water, to buy a barbecue to cook on and to remember that hot water cylinders are drinkable.


Who would have known that a flu virus would knock out electricity, water and gas supplies? There were other such helpful hints - that empty plastic bottles are dandy for storing water, swimming pools can be used for sanitation and canned food does need a can opener.


The best advice was at the end. "Supermarkets," the newspaper breathlessly advised, "would remain open, but with fewer staff." So why do I need all those cans? And won't my neighbour get upset if I use his kidney-shaped bather for my ablutions?


This pandemic panic is being fuelled by health policy advisers to justify their jobs, the media to fill an otherwise bare news desert, and local bodies to justify their excessive rates demands.

January 23rd, 2006


New Drug from Avi BioPharma

Avi BioPharma, a small biotech company based in Portland, Oregon, has announced that three independent laboratories have confirmed that its new drug, Neugene, appears effective in fighting H5N1 flu. The company now plans to file with the Food and Drug Administration to begin human clinical trials. Shares in Avi BioPharma rocketed 50% on the news.

January 21st, 2006


The Staying Power of Bird Flu

Bird flu can survive in bird droppings for more than a month in cold weather, and for nearly a week in hot weather, according to a new, updated WHO fact sheet, which suggests that droppings are one of the keys to the spread of the disease.

January 21st, 2006


Tamiflu – Good Cop, Bad Cop

Two stories today. First, from UPI:


In a surprising study researchers have urged against wide usage of the popular Tamiflu and similar antiviral drugs during flu season. The study, published Thursday in the London-based medical journal the Lancet, concluded that the drugs aren't likely to help many patients with flu-like symptoms. The authors also said they found no "credible evidence" that Tamiflu works against bird flu.


But then there is this, from the Oxford Press in Ohio:


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's unexpected recommendation that doctors begin prescribing Tamiflu for everyday influenza could have far-reaching ripple effects, according to pharmaceutical and flu experts.


…The CDC said Saturday that physicians should cease prescribing two older drugs, amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine), as protection against the worst side effects of flu because most of the flu now circulating in the country has become resistant and the drugs no longer work. To adequately protect against serious illness or death, physicians should substitute Tamiflu, CDC said.

January 20th, 2006


H5N1 in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has sometimes been the transit point – between East and West - for flu outbreaks. Now H5N1 has been confirmed in a bird in the region.

January 20th, 2006


Turkey – the Aftermath

Egg consumption is down 90% in Turkey in the wake of the bird flu outbreak, according to Reuters, and poultry farmers are suffering:


"We can hardly sell any eggs. People are scared to buy eggs and poultry," Ahmet Sisman, the owner of the Buyuk Sismanlar egg production company, said on Wednesday at his farm housing some 300,000 egg-laying chickens in the Cubuk area, 40 km northeast of the capital Ankara.


…"Our retail customers cannot pay us back, but we have to feed our chickens. We can feed our poultry for the next week or 10 days, but if the situation remains unchanged and nobody buys our eggs, then we won't be able to feed our chickens any more. It is not like just shutting down a manufacturing factory," he complained.


…"After news of the first human deaths from bird flu in the east of the country, our sales came to a virtual halt. Now we sell only 10 percent of what we used to trade before," Yusuf Zafar Kaya, Vice-President of the Turkish Association of Egg Producers (TAEP), said. "The consumers are afraid to buy our product because of a lack of awareness. This is despite the fact that eggs and poultry from organised farms do not pose any health threat and all safety measures in the production facilities are strictly followed," he said.

January 19th, 2006


Turkey – More Cases Expected, But Situation Improving

Reuters reports:


The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday it expected more human cases of bird flu following the death of four people in Turkey, but said the risks to humans were steadily diminishing.


…"We do expect to see some (more) cases because it takes time before the virus in birds has completely disappeared," Dr. Guenael Rodier, who heads the WHO mission to Turkey and is an expert in communicable diseases, told Reuters in an interview. "We know that the risk remains with close interaction between people and birds but we believe it is going down daily."

January 17th, 2006


Bird Flu Latest – Human to Human Transmission? Or Is It All Overhyped?

A girl has died of suspected bird flu in Turkey and her brother is in a critical condition. If confirmed, it would bring to 20 the number of human cases of bird flu infection in Turkey, including four deaths. And WHO officials now wonder if human-to-human transmission of the disease is occurring in Turkey.


Nevertheless, Time magazine asks, “Is Bird Flu Overhyped?” and suggests that “the virus may turn out to be far less deadly than we have been led to believe.”


British authorities have seized a haul of 5,000 packets of Tamiflu – apparently genuine - being hawked over the internet, and believed to have been stolen.

January 16th, 2006


Bird Flu Alert - Travel Advisory

The Observer newspaper carries an excellent summary of precautions that are recommended for international travelers, to guard against bird flu. A couple of excerpts:


Q: What are the symptoms?

A: Fever, cough, sore throat and trouble breathing. The CDC [the American government's Center for Disease Control and Prevention] advises checking for these symptoms for 10 days after you return from an affected country.


Q: Should we take special medical kit?

A: As with most infectious disease, hand washing is one of the most important preventative measures. The US CDC recommends you take a bottle of alcohol handwash so you can clean your hands even when not near soap and water.

January 16th, 2006


Calm in Turkey

An excellent report in the Financial Times suggests that Turkish authorities are winning the bird flu battle. One interesting statistic:


The greatest source of comfort for [Health Ministry official] Dr [Mehmet Ali] Torunoglu amid the turmoil and dislocation of the outbreak is that the death rate among people in Turkey from infection by H5N1 is much lower than in southeast Asia – 16.6 per cent against 58 per cent (his calculations). “The outbreak is coming down from the peak point, but we cannot be certain about what will happen next. For the moment, this is not an epidemic,” he says.


For a fascinating first-hand account of the Turkish situation, read the blog from AP reporter Benjamin Harvey.


In another development, The Guardian reports that an analysis of the Turkish victims is leading scientists to believe they may have found a more effective treatment for the H5N1 strain of the virus.

January 14th, 2006


Sometimes We Should Keep These Thoughts to Ourselves.”

The Boston Herald felt free to editorialize in its report of comments by Dell Corporation CEO Kevin Rollins. Under the headline “Bird-brained Dell exec sees profits in flu” it wrote:


In a remark that raised eyebrows for its apparent lack of sensitivity, Dell Inc. Chief Executive Kevin Rollins said the avian flu now spreading through Eastern Europe could help the made-to order PC company reap profits.


‘‘We deliver to homes,’’ Rollins said in an address at a business luncheon in Boston. ‘‘People don’t have to come to stores.’’


Explaining his logic, he said when panic surrounding the SARS virus took hold of China, Dell’s business in the emerging technology market picked up when people were forced indoors.


‘‘Our business in China boomed,’’ he said, because people were either quarantined or sequestered themselves at home in order to avoid coming in contact with the deadly virus.


But Rollins’ matter-of-fact phrasing drew an astonished chuckle from one veteran retail analyst. ‘‘It’s certainly putting it in its bluntest terms, isn’t it?’’ said Wendy Leibmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail, a retail consulting firm in New York. ‘‘It’s perhaps not politically correct or even appropriate. Sometimes we should keep these thoughts to ourselves.’’
January 14th, 2006