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Bird Flu - Archives


June 1st - June 30th, 2006

Pandemic Panic
1. A bird flu pandemic could send firms with weak balance sheets "spiralling into bankruptcy," according to a senior World Bank official. Airlines would be particularly exposed.

2. US funeral companies would be hard pressed to meet demand for their services in a bird flu pandemic, because of the sheer volume of dead, and stringent public health rules that would likely be put into effect, according to Reuters.

3. Commodity prices would fall less and recover faster than other assets if there were a bird flu pandemic, according to a prominent fund manager. 
June 30th, 2006


Indonesia - Checking Out
No surprises in the headline in The Financial Times: "Indonesia ‘failed in its response to bird flu’."

Among several points in the report:

Indonesia’s response to a fatal bird flu cluster was littered with failings...and would have speeded rather than slowed the global spread of the virus had it involved a pandemic strain of H5N1.

Indonesia has asked for a considerable sum of money to fight bird flu:

“It’s a little bit absurd. I don’t know why people don’t call them on this,” said one expert. “What is this money going to be used for? It’s going to be used to build government institutions that should be there in the first place. It’s not [bird flu] specific. It’s things...any civilised country should have.”

And then there is this:

With no laws to stop him, the father who died in the cluster checked himself out of the hospital and went into hiding even as epidemiologists were examining samples from him.
June 29th, 2006


Chinese Puzzle
News-Medical.Net delves into the mystery of that letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from eight Chinese scientists:

Had that information been made available at the time, countries in the region may have been able to respond when the virus appeared within their borders and lives may have been saved.

China only began reporting cases in November 2005, and has only admitted to 19 H5N1 cases with 12 deaths.

Officials say lives certainly would have been saved in Vietnam and Thailand and the incident has all manner of implications.

International influenza experts have always suspected China has not always been totally transparent when it comes to such cases and has thought there were hidden or missed human cases of H5N1, but none expected those suspicions to be confirmed in one of the world's most respected medical journals.

June 27th, 2006

First H5N1 Deaths from Wild Birds
German researchers have confirmed that four villagers in Azerbaijan who died from bird flu contracted the disease after plucking feathers from dead swans. It is the first reported case of human infection from wild birds.

Andreas Gilsdorf, an epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who led the team that made the discovery, said: "As far as we know this is the first transmission from a wild bird, but it was a very intensive contact.

"We know that the virus is carried by swans and we know that you can catch the virus if you have close contact, so it doesn't change anything, it's just the first time it has been reported."

Some ornithologists and conservation experts have tried to play down the role that wild birds could play in spreading the disease. The UN's Convention on Migratory Species organised a "world migratory bird day" in April, which it said came "at a time when migratory birds were being unfairly portrayed as harbingers of death and disease".

Almost all of the 220 other confirmed human cases of bird flu, including 130 deaths, have been linked to infected domestic poultry. A handful are believed to have caught the disease directly from infected humans.

June 27th, 2006

Zambians Panic, H5N1 Mutates
- Zambians are panicking after television broadcast reports of dead and dying crows. Poultry sales have plummeted.

- The H5N1 virus mutated to cause the recent cluster deaths in Indonesia. But WHO says it is "not more contagious" than before.
June 24th, 2006


More Bird Flu Confusion from China
The current bird flu outbreak is generally thought to date from December 2003 and early 2004, when a wave of infections hit a number of countries in Asia. Now comes news - or does it? - that a man in China died of bird flu in November 2003.

The "news" comes in the form of a letter from eight Chinese scientists to the New England Journal of Medicine.

But after writing the letter, the scientists apparently asked that it be withdrawn. However, the journal's deadline had already passed, and this was not possible.

Previously, it was believed that China's first bird flu case was in 2005.

What's going on?
June 23rd, 2006


Human-to-Human Transmission - Why Only Blood Relatives?
The World Health Organization has concluded that human-to-human transmission probably occurred among seven members of an Indonesian family who developed bird flu. This, naturally, has some experts worried:

One of the remaining mysteries is why only blood relatives - not spouses - became infected.

The WHO report theorizes the family shared a "common genetic predisposition to infection with H5N1 virus with severe and fatal outcomes." However, there is no evidence to support that.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO's coordinator for the Global Influenza Program in Geneva, said the Indonesian case appears to resemble other family clusters where limited human-to-human transmission occurred following close contact. He said scientists must find out whether anything is different about the way the virus is behaving.

"The really critical factor is why did that cluster develop?" he said. "What's the reason why people in a cluster got infected?"

June 22nd, 2006


Devastating for Restaurants
This is no surprise - the National Restaurant Association is worried:

The restaurant industry will face a slew of issues during the next year, but none has owners and operators more nervous than one they’ve never experienced before: avian flu.

...The potential of a pandemic was on the mind of the convention’s surprise keynote speaker, President Bush.

According to news reports, the president said the federal government has a strategy in place for a bird-flu outbreak in the United States, but he added that, "Whether or not it would work to perfection, you hope you never have to find out."

Another keynote speaker, television newsman Ted Koppel, was less optimistic.

"If avian flu breaks out in this country, I don’t think you’ll be keeping your restaurants open," he reportedly told attendees. "You’ll be staying at home."

That scenario would be devastating for the economy, considering that the restaurant industry is the nation’s biggest employer with 12.5 million workers.

June 21st, 2006

Indonesia - Where's Plan B?
A row has broken out between Indonesian authorities and aid donors in the West over what is perceived as Indonesia's lack of action in fighting bird flu.

The Financial Times reports:

Experts from the WHO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Unicef and agencies including the US and European centres for disease control will meet in Jakarta from Wednesday, almost a year after Indonesia reported its first human fatality.

The meeting comes amid growing criticism of Jakarta’s response to the H5N1 threat, in particular its failure to control the spread of the virus in animals. There has also been criticism that while Indonesia continues to convene meetings with international experts it is doing little to implement their recommendations.

...Suspicion on both sides appears to be contributing to a stalemate with donors over how to finance Jakarta’s plans.

...Indonesia’s plan was fine as it stood, one expert said yesterday. “But it’s sort of academic if you’re not going to implement it. And if you’re not going to implement it unless you get grant financing then what’s your Plan B? Right now they don’t have a Plan B.”

June 19th, 2006


Middle East - Getting Better
Reuters carries a very interesting bird flu "situation report" from the Middle East, looking at developments in the leading countries.

Essentially, the news is good. Chicken sales - which plummeted throughout the region earlier in the year, when bird flu was reported in several countries - have recovered in many areas. And preventative measures, including a mass poultry culling in Egypt and quarantining in Iran, seem to have had an effect.

Now, if only something can be done about Asia...
June 17th, 2006


Bird Flu? Just Another Western Conspiracy, Says an Adviser to the Iranian President
From Andrew Sullivan:

"Ramin also claimed that the spread of bird flu was a conspiracy plot cause[d] by the failure of America, Israel and Britain in the Middle East. Ramin pointed out that to cover up and hide their failures, these countries have spread the news about the bird flu to preoccupy and distract public opinion for some 5 to 6 months. 'Nobody asks how a bird that had the flu could fly from Australia to Siberia,' he said, adding that even the Iranian minister of health had claimed to have stopped the disease at Iran's borders. He claimed the holocaust story and bird flu rumors are interrelated. He attributed the killing of millions of chicken was to control the price and amount [of] chicken in the market."
June 16th, 2006


Mystery Chinese Bird Flu Case Worries Hong Kong
Hong Kong authorities are concerned about a bird flu case in Shenzhen, and are considering a ban on poultry imports from mainland China.

A 31-year-old man was suspected of having contracted the deadly H5N1 virus in Shenzhen, which is located right across the border from Hong Kong.

'We are very concerned about this bird flu case in Shenzhen (as the patient) didn't make any contacts with poultry and birds,' [Health Secretary York] Chow said.

'(This) makes us think there is a possibility that there might be poultry which might not have clear flu symptoms but can spread virus to humans. That's what we are most worried about,' he said.
June 15th, 2006


Bird Flu - Americans Worry, Asians "Unconcerned"
A leading US finance strategist is surprised - Asian investors don't seem concerned by bird flu. This is despite the recent cases of suspected human-to-human transmission in Indonesia, which had a short-term negative impact on stock markets.

But back in the US many businesses are very worried:

Some companies are going so far as to set entire buildings aside as "clean facilities" in which workers and families would remain during a bird flu outbreak. At least two financial institutions are setting up such voluntary quarantines and two utilities are considering it, according to Gary Lynch, national practice leader for business continuity risk management at Marsh Inc. He said the companies plan to pay premiums and offer antiviral drugs to employees who take part.
June 14th, 2006


Business Travel and Bird Flu
You're going to want to wash your hands after reading this, warns USA Today business travel columnist David Grossman at the start of a lengthy report, titled "What business travelers should know about avian flu."

Here's some of what he advises:

• Develop a plan for each individual traveler and each business...

• Work closely/share information with other departments like Human Resources, Safety and Security.

• Ask airline, hotel, car rental, and travel agencies for a copy of their pandemic plans; make this a condition of your contract.

• Implement system to track location and communicate with travelers at all times.

• When traveling abroad avoid live poultry markets.

• Monitor websites for updated information...

• Get involved with national and local business travel organizations...that could issue guidelines and recommendations.

• Get vaccinations when available.

• Get a pneumonia shot.

• Stock antiviral drugs like Tamiflu.

• Develop a relationship with companies like iJet which provide information on conditions in locales all over the world, and companies like International SOS that can help evacuate employees or obtain medical assistance on your behalf in an emergency situation.

• Stock preventative items like NIOSH-Approved N95 Disposable Particulate Respirators that block out 95% of all viruses.

• Teach employees and practice personal hygiene: Wash hands frequently especially after shaking hands. Wash hands after touching any surface that might have been touched previously by another person who might be infected. Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose, and eyes at all times.

June 13th, 2006


Indonesian Health Authorities - Can We Trust Them?
Some people in Indonesia are worried:

An animal health expert with the Surabaya-based Airlangga University, Chairul A. Nidom, said he would not be surprised if the government had kept...information to itself for a time.

"The question is: who has actually panicked -- the government or the public?" said Chairul, who claimed that his laboratory research in Japan last year showed some of the H5N1 virus spreading in Indonesia had adopted into forms receptive to humans.

Chairul said the government must be more transparent on this issue by giving detailed information to the public to involve them in containing bird flu.

"If only the government had started being honest three years go, we wouldn't be in the present situation," he said.

Kemal [Siregar, who chairs the Association of the Indonesian Public Health Experts] further warned that if the government fails to share vital information on the virus' spread, it would not only put the public at greater risk of being uninformed, but also would draw international criticism should a pandemic occur.

Incomplete information given to the public can only let the virus keep spreading among humans, and that could lead to a pandemic, he said.

"If a pandemic occurs in Indonesia due to public ignorance, the world will condemn us," he added.

June 12th, 2006


Bird Flu in Hungary
Bird flu has been confirmed in Hungary, though further testing is needed to determine if it is the H5N1 strain.
June 10th, 2006

Alaska in the News
I guess there's a whole heap of journalists up in Alaska right now covering official US efforts to track the spread of bird flu. Read reports from Bloomberg, Reuters and AP.

June 10th, 2006

Tijuana Tamiflu

A growing number of Americans are traveling to Tijuana to buy Tamiflu, according to a Biowire report:

"For the past month, we have had an abundant supply of Tamiflu and are selling the FDA-recommended 10-pill dosage for $58, versus about $100 in the United States," said Mario Zamudio, Medicine Store manager.

...."Many people want to have their own supply on hand to treat themselves, their family and their friends if an outbreak occurs," said Elba Orozco, sales manager of Drug Discounters.

"U.S. customers frequently were asking us for Tamiflu, but it was only about a month ago that Roche was able to make supplies available to us," Orozco said.

The Tamiflu available in Tijuana is the same strength and quality of that in the U.S.

The Mexican government keeps drug prices in that country low so more people can afford them. That's why Americans have gone to Mexico for decades to buy prescription drugs at 30 to 80 percent savings, said Gerardo Rosales of Discount Pharmacy.

June 9th, 2006


Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Protective Masks - Looking for a Bird Flu Cure
Does sauerkraut cure bird flu?

No, it doesn't, say the experts. But the pickled cabbage dish is still one of many bird flu "remedies" - from kimchi to alkaline water - being touted to a nervous public, according to an amusing article from Bloomberg News.

This week, 235 items related to bird flu were for sale at the U.S., British and German Web sites of the online auctioneer eBay, from disinfectant sprays to treatment advice including books.

A Web site in Germany,, has a waiting list for protective masks, Klaus Forsthofer, the head of distribution for ACE, the company that runs the site, said in an interview. The British Web site UK Survive advertises a family pack including face masks, five single-use medical suits and 600 powder-free latex gloves for £493.50, $917, marked down from £869.

"It is going massively, yes, massively," Nick Powell, the managing director of UK Survive, said in an interview. The company has sold 20,000 packs of face masks for £24.99 since January, an increase from about 200 a month last year.

"Gowns and boots are not something for the general public," said Maria Cheng, a spokeswoman for World Health Organization.

Masks effective enough to stop the virus are so uncomfortable that they are difficult to wear for more than an hour, said Gundula Jaeger, a virologist with the Max von Pettenkofer Institute in Munich.
June 8th, 2006


US Tests Birds
Officials in the US have begun testing wild birds to check if bird flu has arrived. A new test gives a result within four hours.
June 7th, 2006

UK Tests Vaccine
Oxford scientists are excited about an experimental new vaccine, which has proved highly effective in producing immunity to bird flu in a group of volunteers.

The DNA vaccine, developed by PowderMed, of Oxford Science Park, has passed safety tests and will now be tried on larger groups of volunteers.

The virus's genetic material DNA is coated with gold particles which are propelled into the skin with helium gas, instead of using a needle.

...Powdermed's chief executive, Dr Clive Dix, said current stockpiles of bird flu vaccine could only treat 75 million people worldwide, because high doses were needed. But just one kilogram of his company's DNA vaccine could potentially treat 500 million people.

"The advantage of a DNA-based approach is that the vaccines can be manufactured very rapidly and in large quantities, while yielding an immune response at low doses," he said.

PowderMed will now start phase II trials later this year using both annual flu and bird flu strains. A vaccine against bird flu could be ready by 2008, said Dr Dix.

June 7th, 2006

Human-to-Human Transmission - a Grimmer Picture
Cases of bird flu human-to-human transmission are probably greater in number than generally acknowledged, according to a report in the New York Times.

The numbers are still relatively small, and they do not mean that the virus has mutated to pass easily between people — a change that could touch off a worldwide epidemic. All the clusters of cases have been among relatives or in nurses who were in long, close contact with patients.

But the clusters — in Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Vietnam — paint a grimmer picture of the virus's potential to pass from human to human than is normally described by public health officials, who usually say such cases are "rare."

June 5th, 2006


Out of the Frying Pan...
Merlin, a British charity working in the earthquake zone in Java, has warned of disease risks to survivors taking shelter in chicken sheds.

Dr Yolanda Bayugo, Merlin's health director in Indonesia, raised concerns today with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization in Yogyakarta and has asked for more tents to be supplied.

"We are concerned that people using poultry sheds as shelter are at risk from avian flu and salmonella," said Dr Bayugo.

"In Pundong sub-district of Bantul, where about 35,000 people are homeless, we found more than 100 people taking shelter in six large poultry sheds," she continued. "The sheds, built from bamboo, are each about 200 metres long and are the only surviving structures in the area. One shed was new and had not yet been used to keep chickens. Others, which had been cleared recently, were only partially cleaned and still had chicken droppings lying on bamboo slats."

Also in Indonesia, a nurse who has not had contact with poultry, but who had treated two children who died of H5N1, is herself now in hospital with "bird flu-like" symptoms.
June 3rd, 2006


Fighting Bird Flu, Fighting Indonesia's Bureaucracy
The headline is pretty blunt: "Bird Flu Explodes in Indonesia."

Here is how the story begins:

Indonesia averaged one human bird flu death every 2 1/2 days in May, putting it on pace to soon surpass Vietnam as the world's hardest-hit country.

The latest death, announced Wednesday, was a 15-year-old boy whose preliminary tests were positive for the H5N1 virus. It comes as international health officials express growing frustration that they must fight Indonesia's bureaucracy as well as the disease.

Even worse, Indonesia is probably under-reporting bird flu outbreaks:

Indonesia's decentralized government system has made controlling the disease particularly difficult, experts from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said, allowing the virus to skip from one village to the next.

While some countries meticulously report every single outbreak to the World Organization for Animal Health, which tracks the disease, there has been no reporting from the Indonesian government since April 24, even though scientists presume that outbreaks crop up constantly.

"In their decentralized system, information does not always get back to Jakarta," said Juan Lubroth, a senior veterinarian at the F.A.O. "The information in Jakarta doesn't reflect what's happening on the ground."

June 1st, 2006