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Bird Flu - Archives


January 2nd - January 13th, 2006

Turkish Bird Flu – Mutating?

WHO, quoting the Turkish Ministry of Health, says there have now been 18 confirmed cases of human bird flu infection in the country, with three fatalities.


Reuters says that the European Union has praised Turkey for its “transparency and cooperation over bird flu but advised neighboring states to step up surveillance to stop the disease spreading.” The Reuters report also includes a useful summary of bird flu issues around Europe.


However, Britain’s Evening Standard newspaper reports that British scientists examining viruses from two of the Turkish fatalities fear that the H5N1 bird flu is “mutating towards a form adapted to humans.”

January 13th, 2006


Turkey Update - UN Agencies at Odds?

There has been no new news out of Turkey for a couple of days. However, it seems that two United Nations agencies are at odds over the situation.


On the one hand, the World Health Organization is urging calm, and stressing that the problem has been well-managed:


Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, the WHO's regional director for Europe, Marc Danzon, said there was "no reason to panic" and warned that fear would "only cause a bad outcome".


"The situation [in Turkey] has been taken seriously from the beginning," he said. "From the WHO point of view, we are working easily with the health ministry and there is transparency.”The reaction in the country has been appropriate, and the management of the crisis is at the level where it should be. The ministry is doing everything that is known to maintain and manage this difficult crisis.”


However, there is also this:


"The virus may be spreading despite the control measures already taken," Juan Lubroth, senior animal health officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN told the Associated Press.


"Far more human and animal exposure to the virus will occur if strict containment does not isolate all known and unknown locations where the bird flu virus is currently present," said Lubroth.


"The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 could become endemic in Turkey," said a statement by the FAO.

January 12th, 2006


East Asia Update

A senior WHO official has warned that, “more people are likely to be infected by a deadly bird flu virus in Asia ahead of this month's Lunar New Year holidays, when consumption of poultry rises.”


Two more bird flu deaths have occurred in China, bringing the total there to five.

January 12th, 2006


Turkey – No More News Is Very Good News

For more than 24 hours the number of confirmed human bird flu cases in Turkey has remained at 15.


The Independent reported that “Turkish authorities were trying to reassure the world it had the outbreak of bird flu under control,” while Britain’s Channel 4 quoted a WHO official as stating that "I have a sense that what is going on in Turkey can be ...brought under control relatively easily.”


And the New York Times has a fascinating report:


Two young brothers, ages 4 and 5, who have tested positive for the dreaded H5N1 avian virus, were being closely watched at Kecioren Hospital here today, although neither has exhibited any symptoms of the disease.


Doctors are unsure whether they are seeing for the first time human bird flu in its earliest stages, or if they are newly discovering that infection with the dreaded H5N1 virus does not always lead to illness.


In any case, the highly unusual cluster of five cases detected here in Turkey's capital over the last three days - all traceable to contact with sick birds - is challenging some of the doctors' assumptions about bird flu and giving them new insights into how it spreads and causes disease.


Since none of the five have died, it is raising the possibility that human bird flu is not as deadly as currently thought, and that many mild cases may have gone unreported.


Meanwhile, The Independent has also reported that:


Jittery European governments sprayed disinfectant over lorries from Turkey. In Italy, a consumer group urged a ban on travel to Turkey, and in Greece, veterinary inspectors stepped up border checks. Neighbouring Bulgaria issued advice on how to cope.

January 11th, 2006


Turkey – Getting Worse

New cases in the Black Sea provinces of Kastamonu, Corum and Samsun, near the capital Ankara, have led experts to fear “a westward march by the virus towards Europe. The virus first surfaced in Van, about 1,000 kilometres farther east.”


The World Health Organization, which is generally cautious in confirming bird flu outbreaks, has announced that 14 cases of human infection have been detected in the country, including two deaths. WHO officials have said there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.


The Turkish newswire Zaman Online carries this highly disturbing report:


Prior to the announcement of bird flu cases at the beginning of January, it was determined the virus was actually first detected in the laboratories of the Agriculture Ministry on December 9. A ministry statement on the same day denied the existence of the disease in Turkey.


Also on the same day, the ministry's Veterinary Control Research Institute Directorate kept secret the autopsy records of suspect chickens, turkeys, and geese. These birds, it was confirmed, were infected with the bird flu virus. In different samples received from laboratories in Erzurum, Kars, Erzincan, and Agri in November, the bird flu virus was also detected. The data was recorded in laboratory reports on December 9-10.


Twenty five days after confirmation of the new diagnosis, Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker stated, "There is no bird flu in Turkey."


In other developments, Iran has closed its Turkish border crossing, and Russian officials are advising against holidaying in Turkey.

January 10th, 2006


Turkey Update

The governor of Ankara has announced that two children and an adult in the Turkish capital have tested positive for H5N1 bird flu. It seems the unofficial count of cases of human infection in the country is now nine. There are also scary reports of bird flu in Istanbul. Altogether, the flu has been reported in 10 of the country’s 81 provinces, says the New York Times, and health officials say they now believe the disease has been “simmering” in the east of the country for several months.


According to the New York Times article:


The cluster of cases in Turkey is extraordinary and concerning, scientists said. In all of East Asia, where the disease has been running rampant in birds for years, only about 140 people have ever become infected and there has never been this kind of grouping.


Scientists are exploring various theories to explain the Turkish clusters, including biological changes in the virus and behavioral risks. "When the temperatures drop below zero - as they do frequently around Van in the winter - people may be more likely to bring the chickens indoors and that could increase exposure," Ms. Cheng said. "That's not something we'd expect in Vietnam, where it’s much warmer."

January 9th, 2006


Terror in Turkey

A third child has died in Eastern Turkey of bird flu, and at least 23 others in the region – mainly children - are in hospital, one of them in critical condition. Clinical Microbiology Foundation President Professor Haluk Eraksoy has stated that more deaths may occur. Reuters reports that bird flu has been detected in ducks near the capital Ankara, and comments:


The discovery suggests migratory birds may be spreading the disease across the large country, as experts had warned. Bird flu first surfaced in Turkey last October in a corner of western Turkey near the Sea of Marmara, further west than Nallihan, but authorities declared that infected area clear of the disease last month after imposing quarantine measures.
January 7th, 2006


Use a Tissue When You Sneeze

The US government is issuing guidelines on how to cope in the event of a flu pandemic. The advice seems fairly obvious, but it’s always worth repeating these things. For example:


Stock up: Keep a supply of water and nonperishable food.

Cover your mouth: Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Work: Ask your employer about how business will continue during a pandemic.

Stay home: Call in if you are sick; consider working at home.

Family health plan: Include information such as blood types, past and current medical conditions, medications and important phone numbers.

January 7th, 2006


Playing the Hype, Playing the Cycle

Drug companies involved in bird flu research have seen their stock prices soar in recent months. But, warns a CNN Money report, the end of the flu season might also mean the end of the run-up in the shares.


Flu season typically peaks in the winter. During these months, Wall Street traders ride the subways with thousands of flu-stricken workers, and many of the traders become sick themselves. It's easy for them to imagine a flu pandemic.


So what happens to biotech stocks when flu season ends? "Influenza will become a less topical story come March," said Scott Henry, analyst for Oppenheimer & Co. "The flu does tend to be a seasonal event."


…But Henry added that "most companies that don't earn money are dependent on the news cycle," so if bird flu fails to generate headlines, it could also fail to generate investor interest. "If you think you're going to play the hype, you should probably play the cycle, too," said Henry. "If you're a trader looking for a quick move, you have to recognize the seasonality of the flu and the news cycle. You don't want to be the last one on the block."

January 7th, 2006


Turkey Latest

The Turkish news service NTV MSNBC reports that a further six people have been hospitalized in the town of Aralik – where two bird flu deaths have already occurred - with bird flu-like symptoms. Altogether, 15 people in eastern Turkey have been hospitalized with the symptoms, according to the report. An official WHO announcement says 11 people have been hospitalized. The Turkish cases bring the number of countries reporting human infection to six, with a total of 144 cases.

January 6th, 2006


Turkey – Bird Flu Confirmed in Humans

Turkey’s Health Minister has confirmed two cases of bird flu human infection. One patient – a 14-year-old boy - has died, and his sister is seriously ill. A third sibling is showing bird flu symptoms. The family live and work on a poultry farm, in the east of the country, near the Iranian border.

January 5th, 2006


Vaccine Update

Sanofi Pasteur, a unit of Paris-based pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis, is “leading the pack in the race to develop a vaccine that could help prevent an avian flu pandemic,” according to a report in Business Week. The journal says that the company has already signed contracts with the governments of France, Australia, and the US to produce more than five million doses of the vaccine to be stockpiled in case of emergency.

Meanwhile, the Science Daily website reports that The La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology is making “significant strides” in the battle against bird flu, with “pre-clinical trials under way on a potential treatment conceived by one of its scientists.”

January 4th, 2006

H5N1 – What’s in a Name?

Interesting article at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) website on why H5N1 viruses are not all the same.


The answer has to do with the rather outdated conventions for naming influenza viruses, according to David Halvorson, a veterinary pathologist and avian influenza expert at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.


The "H" and "N" in the name of a flu virus stand for hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, two proteins on the surface of the virus that allow it to enter and exit host cells. Sixteen different hemagglutinins and nine different neuraminidases have been identified to date.


Hemagglutinin and neuraminidase were the first aspects of the flu virus to be identified, so the nomenclature was built around the two genes that code for them, Halvorson explained to CIDRAP News. The types are numbered according to when they were discovered; H1 was identified first.


However, a flu virus also has six other genes and corresponding proteins. Thus a name like "H5N1" is a very incomplete description of the virus.


"The H5N1 only describes two of the eight genes, so there are six other genes," Halvorson said. It's possible to have an H5N1 strain with six other genes from an avian flu virus, or an H5N1 with six other genes from a human-adapted or pig-adapted flu virus. "That's how far apart they can be."


For example, the other six genes in a given H5N1 virus could be identical to the other six genes in an H6N2 virus, he said.


In an analogy Halvorson uses with his students, he said that assuming that all H5N1 viruses are identical would be like assuming that all men wearing navy blazers and gray pants are the same in other ways.


"You can have the mafia wearing that outfit or you can have a college professor wearing that outfit—or a used car salesman," he said.


"We're stuck with something we have difficulty explaining because we don't really have good nomenclature," Halvorson summed up.

January 2nd, 2006


Bird Flu Fears in Turkey

A Turkish boy has died after eating chicken, and three siblings are sick. Tests for bird flu are being undertaken. Turkey has previously experienced H5N1 outbreaks, but has not previously reported human infection.

January 2nd, 2006