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Bird Flu - Archives

 

January 24th - February 14th, 2006
 

Seven Deaths in Indonesia in 2006

The reporting by WHO of two more bird flu deaths in Indonesia brings to seven the confirmed fatalities from H5N1 in that country in 2006. Turkey is next, with four deaths during 2006, followed by China with three deaths and Iraq with one. Vietnam has reported the most bird flu deaths altogether – 42 in total – but none during 2006.

February 14th, 2006

 

Keep Eating! Keep Eating!

Italian news service AGI Online reports words of reassurance from the country’s Health Minister, following the discovery of bird flu:

 

"There is no reason to change food habits." Health Minister, Francesco Storace, thus reassured the people over bird flu. "We are talking about wild animals, from which there has never been a case of transmission of the virus to man." With this in mind the minister also asked the press not to exaggerate the figures and news so as not to spread panic among the people. "Everything should be done, except becoming anxious."

 

Too late! Here’s Reuters:

 

Italian poultry sales plunged more than 50 percent after news that the deadly bird flu virus had reached Italy, a farmers' group said on Monday.

 

Reuters also reports that news of the bird flu discovery have “dominated the newspapers, eclipsing even the start of the campaign for the April general elections and the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Turin.”

February 14th, 2006

 

Europe Good, Africa Bad?

There’s quite a strong case to be made that the discovery of bird flu in Italy and Greece is a good thing. The reason? Given bird migration patterns, it was pretty inevitable that H5N1 would arrive in Western Europe, and its quick detection shows that systems are working to protect farmers, consumers and the general population.

 

In contrast, the discovery of the flu in Nigeria suggests that H5N1 has been rampant on the continent for some months.

 

The New York Times sums it up:

 

The discovery of the Italian outbreak seemed to be a model of early detection, underlining how bird flu can be controlled in countries that have the money and the scientific resources to do it.

 

Outbreaks in poor countries like Nigeria, Turkey and Iraq percolated for months before they were discovered, allowing the virus to spread widely to commercial chicken flocks and even to humans.

 

…"There is no immediate danger for our country," Mauro Delogu, an Italian virologist at the University of Bolgona, told ANSA, "because our system of surveillance is efficient and has not contaminated bird farms."

 

Concerning Nigeria, that country’s Vanguard newspaper presents a fascinating interview with Emmanuel Ijewere, formerly president of the Red Cross of Nigeria and now retired and running a poultry (and other meat) business.

 

He explains in considerable detail why Nigeria is ill-prepared to combat a major bird flu outbreak, or other kind of emergency. One of his examples:

 

Disaster management in Nigeria is almost zap. If there is a major disaster in Nigeria, we wouldn’t be able to cope. In Lagos, in particular, the fire brigade that was set up at independence still exists today. But, how many vehicles do they have? And they have been honest enough to say if your building is above three floors and there is fire, you are on your own. Because their hoses cannot get there, even when it gets there, they do not have water….So, there is this whole problem of lack of preparedness. God forbid, if anyone of us should have fire in the house, you must put it out by yourself.  Because, if he is going to wait for the fire brigade, the fire would have consumed the place before they arrive, and when they arrive they will do nothing.  We are all on our own. There is no preparedness, we need to address that, it’s very very important.

February 13th, 2006

 

Nigeria – Much Worse to Come?

No more news from Nigeria in the past 24 hours – and that has to be good – but officials are worried that things could get much worse. Voice of America reports:

 

Alex Thiermann of the World Organization for Animal Health, which works closely with the United Nations, says Africa's first documented case of avian flu is of great concern for the entire continent.

 

"And it's something the OIC has been saying for awhile, that were the disease to get to Africa - it's a continent where most countries have very weak veterinary infrastructure - the rapidity to which the disease can be fought, and how quickly we can eliminate it, has to do very directly related to the quality of the veterinary infrastructures," he said.

 

Experts are concerned that sub-Saharan Africa, with about 600 million of the world's poorest people, is particularly ill-equipped to deal with a major health crisis. 

 

They say any mass slaughters, such as those used to control the virus in Asia, will be difficult.

 

The BBC seems to confirm this:

 

The WHO's regional director in Africa said international support had arrived but most of it in the form of technical advice and not what the region needs most - money. Police marksmen, ordered to cull 180 ostriches at a farm in the virus-stricken north, killed only 120 birds before running out of bullets, the Associated Press news agency reported.

 

And hints of worse to come are in this on-the-spot report from Reuters:

 

Nigerian poultry farm workers used their bare hands to throw dead chickens onto fires as village children stood by to watch in an area where the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has been found. Villagers said their domestic poultry were dying too, reinforcing suspicions that bird flu may be present not only in large commercial farms but also in people's backyards in Africa's most populous country.

 

At a farm near Hawan Dawaki village in the northern state of Kano, where two farms have confirmed cases of H5N1, workers in normal clothes and sandals carried handfuls of dead and dying chickens to a field to burn them.

 

"We are working on this farm without taking care of our health, but what else can we do? We are calling on the government to come and help us," said Alhaj Danliti, the manager of the farm, which is a stone's throw away from the village.

 

He said the farm had lost 10,000 chickens, almost its entire stock, and he did not know the nature of their disease. Several chickens collapsed and died with a yellow liquid leaking from their beaks.

February 11th, 2006

 

Nigeria (and Greece?)

The Nigerian Agricultural Ministry says bird flu has now been found at two more states. The first case was in Kaduna state. It has now been reported at farms in Kano state and Plateau state.

 

Greece has found the H5 virus in three swans. It has arranged tests to learn if it is the H5N1 virus.

February 10th, 2006

 

Bird Flu in Africa

It’s the news we have all been dreading – poverty-stricken, AIDS-weakened Africa has been hit with bird flu. I have already written several times about experts’ fears of the havoc that could be unleashed were H5N1 to reach the continent. So far no human infection has been reported.

 

According to the World Health Organization:

 

At present, the only confirmed H5N1 outbreak is thought to be confined to a large commercial farm, located in Kaduna State in the northern part of [Nigeria], where thousands of chickens were kept in battery cages. Investigations are urgently needed to determine whether the outbreak, which began almost a month ago, has spread from the farm to affect household flocks. Poultry deaths in the adjacent province of Kano have been reported, but the cause has not yet been determined.

 

The most immediate public health need is to reduce opportunities for human infections to occur. Investigations of human cases in Asia and elsewhere have identified close contact with diseased or dead household poultry as the most important source of human exposure to the virus.

 

In Nigeria, as in other parts of Africa, most village households maintain free-ranging flocks of poultry as a source of income and food. Close human contact with poultry is extensive.

 

The Washington Post and International Herald Tribune have further reports.

February 9th, 2006

 

Back from the Dead

The “dead-cat drug that just won’t die.” That’s how The Australian newspaper describes the Relenza anti-flu drug this morning.

 

In a lengthy article, the newspaper examines the controversy over the drug, noting that last week GlaxoSmithKline quietly reopened a Relenza production line at its factory here in Melbourne. The article suggests that the company is embarrassed at having earlier effectively deciding the drug had little future. Indeed, the paper cites court documents in which GSK states that Tamiflu is superior.

 

Relenza's return is an obvious by-product of a global hysteria over bird flu and the subsequent fear that we could face a new global flu pandemic.

 

The belated embrace of Relenza by the federal [Australian] Government was confirmed on December 16 with its order for 1.8 million "additional courses" of the home-grown flu drug. Additional indeed. Until that order, Australia's Relenza reserves stood at a grand total of 24,570 courses.

 

Not that we stood unprepared. Even though Australian taxpayers effectively spent $247 million on the development of Relenza, the Government ended up building its $555 million pandemic defence around Relenza's dominant competitor, Roche's Tamiflu.

 

So why did we spend $114 million on a Tamiflu stockpile? Most likely because Relenza's owners, GSK, had demonstrated such a palpable lack of confidence in the safety, effectiveness and value of the drug.

February 8th, 2006

 

Sanofi-Aventis Delivers
France's Sanofi-Aventis appears to be the most advanced in the race to develop a new bird flu drug. Confirmation comes with the news that it has completed production of an additional $50 million worth of bulk-concentrate vaccine for the US government.

And Didier Hoch, president of Sanofi Pasteur, has told the Financial Times that Europe’s readiness for pandemic flu could deteriorate into a “nightmare” unless EU members start to co-operate more closely over vaccines. He warned that each European country was only focused on its own national priorities, in a way that risked jeopardising supplies to the rest of the world
February 7th, 2006

 

Bird Flu Sleuth
Enjoyable piece in the Washington Post, "Three Days with a Bird Flu Sleuth." Excerpt:

If the source was not chickens, could it have been another person? If so, it might mean the virus had mutated into a form more easily transmitted among humans -- signaling the earliest stages of a global influenza pandemic that could potentially kill millions.

That ominous prospect seemed to grow for a time as this influenza gumshoe followed a trail of clues that led her unexpectedly into a neighboring province and back again.
February 6th, 2006
 

Newsbriefs

Bird flu is probably endemic in Hong Kong.

 

Two more Indonesians have died of suspected bird flu.

 

WHO has confirmed Iraq’s first bird flu death. WHO teams are also investigating possible outbreaks in nine other countries in the region: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Iran, Lebanon, Moldova, Syria, and Ukraine.

 

Bulgaria has discovered its first case of H5 bird flu. Tests are being carried out to see if it is the H5N1 strain.

February 4th, 2006

 

New Bird Flu Book

National Public Radio has an interview with Dr Marc Siegel, author of the newly-published Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic.

 

“Bird Flu” takes on the issues that are injected with a sense of panic and dread, as many parts of the world have grown to fear the spread of a deadly influenza outbreak in recent years.

 

That outbreak, says Siegel, is a distinct possibility. But he urges those who may be at risk to trust in reason -- and ignore the hype -- in judging the risks they face.

 

In making his case for an honest appraisal of those risks, Siegel cites progress in vaccine work and improved living conditions world-wide as two improvements that should make any epidemic far less deadly than that of 1918.

 

And Siegel urges practical changes in policy -- in Asia and in the United States -- that he says will make the world better prepared to resist a pandemic.

February 3rd, 2006

 

Bird Flu Boost to Drug Companies

Forbes reports that stockbrokers are raising their profit forecasts for Tamiflu developer Gilead Sciences, such is the strength of demand for the drug. Tamiflu marketer Roche is seeing higher-than-forecast profit growth.

February 2nd, 2006.

 

Iraq Update

A team of WHO experts is travelling to Northern Iraq to investigate the bird flu death there of a 15-year-old girl. WHO says that two other cases – including the girl’s uncle, who has also died – are also being investigated. But Reuters reports that 12 people are being investigated as possible sufferers.

 

NBC reports that “Iraq is on high alert,” but then – confusingly – adds:

 

The announcement that bird flu has arrived apparently has caused little concern to a populace hardened by years of war and death. Many simply don't believe it. Others, however, are culling their own flocks.

 

The Pentagon said U.S. troops in Iraq won't be taking additional health precautions, but they will be on the lookout for flulike symptoms. "It's a situation that is being monitored closely," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. Whitman said no symptoms of bird flu have been detected among the approximately 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

February 1st, 2006

 

Questions in Turkey

UPI reports:

 

The low fatality rate among Turkish sufferers of avian influenza is triggering questions about the virulence of the virus. The possibility that the H5N1 virus might "trade" some of its virulence for increased levels of transmission has sparked hope that an eventual human-to-human avian-influenza pandemic may be no more dangerous than the annual seasonal flu.  

 

Some scientists have raised the possibility that this may be beginning to happen already, citing the Turkish avian-flu statistics as an example. Others are not so sure. In Southeast Asia, where bird flu first emerged, the death toll from the disease hovers around 50 percent. In Turkey, however, there have been only four deaths from a suspected 21 -- 12 confirmed -- cases of avian influenza, or a death rate of between 20 percent and 35 percent.

 

And Turkey’s Cihan news agency reports, without further elaboration, that “the World Health Organization on Monday expressed puzzlement at the young age of bird flu victims in Turkey during the recent outbreak of the virus in the country.”

February 1st, 2006

 

Iraqi Death – Health Officials Alarmed

A laboratory in Egypt has reportedly confirmed that an Iraqi girl has died of bird flu. If verified by WHO, it will be the first case outside East Asia and Turkey. It is not good news. As the New York Times reports:

 

The confirmation of the cause of the girl's death also suggests, officials said, that the disease may be spreading widely — and undetected — among birds in the countries of central Asia, which are poorly equipped to identify and report infections. Avian flu has never been reported in birds in Iraq.

 

As happened in Turkey earlier this month, the spread of the H5N1 strain of bird flu to a new part of the world became evident only through a human death. That is notable, and alarming to health officials, because bird flu rarely infects humans, and usually does so late in the course of an animal outbreak, after close contact with sick birds.

January 31st, 2006

 

New Discussion Forum

H5N1 Avian Flu Forum is a new online bird flu discussion forum.

January 31st, 2006

 

Everyone’s Talking About Bird Flu

Bird flu has been detected (in birds) in Cyprus, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. The possibility of a bird flu pandemic in Ukraine is high. Tests are being carried out on a dead Iraqi man to determine if he had bird flu. World business leaders meeting at Davos in Switzerland are more concerned about bird flu than about terrorist attacks.

January 30th, 2006

 

42 Tamiflu Deaths in Japan?

Japan’s Mainichi Daily News is reporting that 42 people have died in Japan after using Tamiflu, though in only two cases is a direct causal link apparent.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said on Friday that officials had received reports of three new deaths after the victims used Tamiflu. Including the three latest victims, the number of deaths after taking the drug stands at 42 nationwide, as of Jan. 20.

 

Of the 42, 14 were 16 years of age or younger, officials said. Only two cases, men in their 50s and 80s, were causally related to the use of Tamiflu, they added. After questioning experts, the officials suggested that the remaining 40 people's deaths were not particularly related to the drug.

January 28th, 2006

 

North Korea

North Korea has denied reports of a bird flu outbreak in the capital Pyongyang.

 

"They said there is no outbreak and all the media reports about North Korea's cases were not true, just a rumour," Dr. Noureddin Mona, the [Food and Agricultural] organization's representative in China, said in an Associated Press report. Mona said the UN agency has no choice but to accept the official story. "We are in no position to make an investigation," he said.

January 28th, 2006

 

Bird Flu Virus Different from Other Kinds

A massive Memphis study of influenza viruses has led to the discovery that bird flu viruses have a gene that may make them especially destructive to cells. All the bird flu viruses studied had the gene and none of the human influenza viruses did. However, much more work is needed before a full understanding can be reached of the bird flu virus.

January 27th, 2006

 

A Quick Round-Up of Breaking Bird Flu News:

* Algerian health authorities have denied reports that a poultry breeder in Oran has died of bird flu.

 

* A Japanese group helping North Korean defectors claims that a woman in Pyongyang was infected with bird flu last month.

 

* GlaxoSmithKline expects to have a new bird flu vaccine in production by the end of the year.

 

* An Israeli virologist believes she has found a new remedy for bird flu, based on elderberries.

January 26th, 2006

 

Turkey “Unique”

Turkey’s bird flu outbreak is no longer much in the news, and it appears that that’s good news. But concerns remain. As WHO Director-General, Lee Jong-Wook, notes, what happened in Turkey was unique.
 

He says the appearance of human cases of avian influenza in that country was unexpected. This is different from Asia where outbreaks of the H5N1 virus were detected in poultry well before the virus occurred in humans.

 

The WHO Chief says there was almost no prior warning of infection in poultry in the eastern part of Turkey.

 

"The Turkey experience demonstrates the dangers posed by avian influenza in birds and the vital importance of surveillance and effective early warning systems," said Dr. Lee. "It also reiterates the threat of a pandemic of influenza in humans. A pandemic could arise with little or no warning from the animal side."

January 24th, 2006