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Bird Flu - Archives


May 11th - May 31st, 2006

Mapping Bird Flu
A new application for Google Earth - preventing bird flu:

"Twenty years ago we had to drive around the countryside and find the chicken farm that reported a disease, but now everything is on a mapping system," [avian medicine professor Sherrill] Davison told Reuters in a recent interview.

"Now, we can very quickly, within about an hour, know exactly how many farms are in an (affected) area. Then we can know which farms to send teams to for extra sampling."

May 31st, 2006

He Didn't Believe Us
Excellent on-the-scene reporting from the AP of the North Sumatra bird flu cluster outbreak:

The sole survivor in a cluster of Indonesian relatives infected with bird flu lies in an open-air hospital room, chickens pecking outside his door and visitors shuffling in and out without masks or protective gear.

The patient, Johannes Ginting, is still very weak but seems unconcerned. He even fled the hospital when he first fell ill with the H5N1 virus, and has since resisted treatment, balking at the bird flu drug Tamiflu and other medicine.

"We had actually given masks and gloves to the family, and we informed them how dangerous this disease is, but they didn't cooperate with us," said Nurrasyid Lubis, deputy director of Adam Malik Hospital. "We also informed him how dangerous it is, but he didn't believe us."

Separately, the World Health Organization has reported six further Indonesian bird flu cases, three of them fatal. It brings to 48 the number of cases in the country, including 36 fatalities.
May 30th, 2006


The World Health Organization has put the maker of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu on alert for possible shipment of the global stockpile for the first time.

WHO has also confirmed another Indonesian death, the country's 35th.

McDonald's, known for its hamburgers, is becoming increasingly dependent on healthier dishes such as chicken. It plans an advertising campaign advising that its meals are free from bird flu.
May 29th, 2006


Indonesia – Not Pretty

Reuters reports that chickens are dying in “unusually large numbers” in a remote area in Indonesia where bird flu killed several members of a family.


According to WHO epidemiologist Steven Bjorge: ”What we're finding out the longer our team stays up in that area is that there are many, many outbreaks in chickens that always go unreported."


Preliminary tests indicate that a brother and sister in West Java are the latest victims in Indonesia.


And check out a report from The Jakarta Post, suggesting that Indonesia could get a lot worse before it gets better:

One trader in
Medan, Yakin Rusli, does not use any sort of protective gear during his daily contact with hundreds of chickens.


"Why should we be afraid of being infected with the bird flu virus? If it's time for us to die, then surely we'll die, no need to be afraid," says Rusli, who has been in the business for 30 years.


Rusli sells chickens and birds from his house, where he also sells animals like puppies, rabbits and even monkeys as pets, all from a single room.


The 67-year-old is assisted by five of his children. Like Rusli, they also handle the poultry without using protective gear.

May 27th, 2006


You'll Never Know the Cause, and That's a Problem

The Australian newspaper carries a good report on the bird flu cluster outbreak in Indonesia, which has killed six members of one family.


In summary:


A team of the world's leading avian flu experts has arrived in the remote village of Kubu Sembelang in North Sumatra to investigate the deaths, which occurred during the past three weeks.


However, the director of the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Ian Gust, said most of the evidence would already have been destroyed.


"We've found with the investigation of clusters in the past that by the time the investigators get there, it's too late," he said yesterday. "Any infected birds that might have been around have gone or been killed.


"You can't take the adequate samples and you'll never know the cause, and that's a problem."


Indonesian health officials were not responding quickly enough to potential cases of the disease, Dr Gust told The Australian.


So what happened? The general consensus seems to be that human-to-human transmission has occurred, but that the virus has not – so far - mutated.


The AP reports:


The WHO has said it is possible the disease may have spread through limited human-to-human transmission in the latest cluster of cases, but it doesn't appear to have spread outside the family.


So far, most human cases have been traced to direct contact with infected birds.


[WHO epidemiologist Steven] Bjorge said the family members were in close physical proximity while they were sick, including sleeping near one another.


He said there is no reason for alarm because rare cases of human-to-human transmission have been observed previously.


"Even though so many people were tragically affected in this case, it hasn't really changed the picture of avian influenza in Indonesia at this time," he said.

Update: The best analysis I've yet seen on the Indonesian outbreak is this report from
May 26th, 2006

Global Market Players Are Worried
Bird flu fears have hit the stock market.

Investor fears of avian flu, which started in Asia and other emerging markets, rippled through to U.S. markets and helped drag down many stocks Wednesday.

"Asian markets took this seriously and started the sell-off," said David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors, a New Jersey-based money management firm supervising about $800 million in assets.

"In the last 48 hours, the global market players have started paying attention to bird flu, because it's suddenly front-page news."

May 25th, 2006


Indonesia Bird Flu Update

Has human-to-human bird flu transmission occurred in Indonesia? We still don’t know, but many are worried. It is even one of the factors in the current shakiness in global stock markets.


A lengthy report on the Canadian CTV website includes the following:

"We think that it may have been possible for the initial case to pass H5N1 bird flu to her nephew who is 10 years old who may have then passed it to his father -- that would be two generations of spread," the WHO's Maria Cheng told CTV Newsnet.


…"They are examining what is going on and they can't find an animal source of this infection," Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the Western Pacific region of the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press.


"This is the first time that we've been completely stumped" by a source for the infection, he said.


…Steven Bjorge, the WHO team leader in the village of Kubu Sembelang, told the wire agency none of the poultry in the area had tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus.


"We're not surprised that there is possible human-to-human transmission," Bjorge said.


"The thing we're looking for is whether it's sustained beyond the immediate cluster."


Isolated cases of very limited human-to-human transmission have been documented but such cases do not necessarily mark the emergency of a pandemic flu strain.


Newsweek has a good on-the-spot report, suggesting that if/when a global pandemic begins, Indonesia could well be the starting point.

The government says it can not afford to kill that many animals and it admits its education of the farmers and peasants is off to a slow start.


That was evident in Kubu Sembilang where the people told this reporter they had never heard of avian flu. And even after the death of their seven neighbors, most villagers still believed that "evil spirits" killed the victims.

May 25th, 2006


Don't Worry, Be Happy
Yesterday I reported some late-breaking, ominous news (below). Today it all goes into reverse. Reuters reports that WHO has issued a statement that,


Tests had shown no evidence of a significant mutation in the bird flu strain that killed at least six people in North Sumatra.

..."Sequencing ... found no evidence of genetic reassortment ... and no evidence of significant mutations," the agency said in a statement.

And Iranian authorities have denied that two deaths in the country were from bird flu. Rather, the pair are said to have died of acute pneumonia.
May 24th, 2006


Late-Breaking (and Ominous) News
Reuters reports that two Iranians have died of bird flu, the first such cases in the country. And Canadian Press reports that WHO appears to be "edging closer" to suggesting human-to-human contact in the recent Indonesian "cluster" deaths.

May 23rd, 2006

We Want Answers

Medical News Today has questions about Tamiflu:

Mike Leavitt, US Health and Human Services Secretary, says US stocks of Tamiflu are being sent to a safe location in some unnamed Asian country. He said this move is to help the first line of defence in case a flu pandemic breaks out.


Many wonder why this sudden move was announced. Why is the country unnamed?


And about that mystery “cluster” of bird flu cases in a North Sumatra village:

Last week it was announced that 7 members of the same family in
Indonesia were infected with the H5N1 bird flu strain - six of them died. The World Health Organization said it was unlikely that such a large cluster of human infections was due to human-to-human transmission. However, nobody seems to be able to locate the source of infection.


If a bunch of people get infected and authorities cannot find any birds as the source, it is not illogical to wonder whether these people may have infected each other. When the WHO says this is unlikely, but cannot offer any other explanation regarding the source of infection, people wonder.

They’re good questions. How long will we have to wait for answers? (And check out Recombinomics for a detailed analysis of the Indonesian cluster, and more questions.)
May 23rd, 2006


Journalists Predict Societal Breakdown, Chaos and Panic

Journalists covering public health issues generally see the US as unprepared for a bird flu pandemic, according to a survey.


Public health journalists in the study view the threat of a pandemic as highly serious. Respondents believe a pandemic could lead to potential "societal breakdown," "chaos," and "panic." And, the vast majority of respondents judge the nation's response to pandemic flu to be either insufficient, misdirected, or both.

May 23rd, 2006


Indonesia – Deepening Concerns

Indonesia seems to be the focus of attention right now for bird flu watchers. Officials are concerned that a “cluster” of cases in a North Sumatra village could mean human-to-human transmission has occurred.

The Indonesian case cluster is the largest seen to date, with at least seven members of an extended family - and perhaps more - falling ill to the disease in the village of Kubu Sembelang in North Sumatra. Six of the seven have died.


Only six of the cases have confirmed as H5N1 cases; no samples were taken from the initial case, a 37-year-old woman who died and was buried in early May.


At least one suspected additional case in the same family - the father of a 10-year-old boy who died - has raised the spectre of possible person-to-person spread.


But more than three weeks after the first woman fell ill, investigators from the WHO and elsewhere are still trying to determine if the man is infected, what the source of the infections is and how far, if at all, illness has spread.


Fear in the village is running high, according to local reports, which also point to a reluctance on the part of villagers to co-operate with authorities trying to investigate the outbreak.


Read more at Medical News Today. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old East Java shuttlecock maker has also been diagnosed with bird flu.

May 22nd, 2006


Spanish Flu Survivor Helps Battle Bird Flu

This is a lovely story - a 92-year-old woman who survived the Spanish flu in 1918 has given 10 vials of her blood to researchers working to develop new bird flu vaccines.


Dorothy Horsch was in kindergarten when she contracted the illness, which killed 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. "My mother and father and sister and I, all four of us had it and all four of us survived," she said Friday. "That was a miracle."


"All we did was lay in bed. I don't remember eating," said Horsch, whose mother hung a camphor bag around her neck to ward off germs.


She drifted in and out of consciousness with fever; she doesn't know for how long. The family eventually recovered, helped by twice-daily house calls from their doctor.

May 22nd, 2006



H5N1 has been found in chickens in Siberia and at a poultry farm in Denmark. A 75-year-old woman has died in Egypt, the country’s sixth bird flu death. The Guardian reports that British scientists discovered evidence of H5 bird flu in poultry as far back as October, but hushed up their findings.

May 19th, 2006


Indonesia - Is This Human-to-Human Infection?
Five members of an Indonesian family have been infected with bird flu, and authorities are now urgently seeking tests, to determine if human-to-human transmission has occurred. The only other known possible case of human-to-human infection occurred in Thailand in 2004.
May 18th, 2006


News in Brief

- European Union customs officials have gone on alert after discovering Chinese chicken being illegally smuggled into Europe, where it is banned due to bird flu concerns.


- Donald Henderson, resident fellow at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told a conference that media reports are promulgating "hilarious" prevention measures, and causing unnecessary panic, with predictions of a bird flu holocaust that would cripple the economy. "That's not the way it works," he said. “It's 10 to 12 weeks that you have a real problem. Then it's effectively back to normal."


- Vets in Kenya have tested hundreds of dead birds, but have not found bird flu. Nevertheless, chicken sales have plummeted.

May 17th, 2006


The Pandemic Pandemic (Or Is It Just an Epidemic?)

What’s the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? Even though, as a writer, I’m in the word business, I hadn’t really thought about this. But Fort Wayne News-Banner columnist Mark Miller has. He reports:


It strikes me that the latest word to become a fad is “pandemic.” The word is absolutely everywhere. It’s become almost synonymous with the bird flu threat, and I’ve seen it applied to other issues as well.


These things used to be called an epidemic, I think. Don’t hear that word anymore at all.


...According to Mr. Webster:


epidemic: “affecting or tending to affect many individuals within a population, community or region at the same time; excessively prevalent.”


pandemic: “occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”


Both can be used as either as an adjective and a noun.


It appears a pandemic might be considered worse, or at least more widely spread, than an epidemic. Hence, it is safe to say we are experiencing a pandemic pandemic.

May 16th, 2006


The Bright Side of Bird Flu

US chicken exports are sharply down, due to global bird flu fears. The result: “a bonanza for the food depositories that serve the nation's poor and hungry,” as poultry companies donate huge amounts of unsold chicken.

May 16th, 2006


Who Goes First?
Controversy over who'll get priority for treatment in the event of a bird flu outbreak. The Houston Chronicle says:

On the Titanic, it was women and children first. During a syphilis outbreak in World War II, soldiers with the best chance of recovery were the ones to get precious doses of penicillin.

In the event of a global flu pandemic, federal officials have said they intend to give vaccine first to health-care workers, followed by the oldest, sickest patients — a policy aimed at saving the most lives. But one of the government's top medical ethicists is challenging that approach, arguing it is more appropriate to give young adults priority because they are at higher risk of dying in a flu pandemic and still have many productive years left.

The Toronto Star reports bluntly:

The sick and elderly should be the last to be given a flu vaccine in a pandemic, according to a controversial paper published today in the journal Science.
May 15th, 2006


- Hong Kong movie superstar Jackie Chan has filmed a public service ad for UNICEF warning children about the dangers of bird flu.

- the latest craze in Ivory Coast nightclubs - the bird flu dance, described as "like a chicken with Parkinson's disease trying to dance to hip-hop."

- five officials in China's Sichuan province have been sacked after they "ignored reports of suspected bird flu outbreaks and then dealt with the crisis incompetently."

- parts of Brasov county in central Romania have been quarantined on fears of a new bird flu outbreak.

- health authorities in Djibouti have reported the country's first case of human H5N1 infection.

- demand is booming in the Ivory Coast for smoked antelope, hedgehog and bush rat, as poultry sales plummet.

- and, for light relief, don't miss Doctor Rob Corddry, senior flu correspondent for the Daily Show.
May 13th, 2006


Bird Flu Humor from the Late Show with David Letterman
Top Ten Surprises In ABC's Bird Flu Movie (Presented By Britney Spears)

10. Thanks to sponsorship deal, flu is cured by delicious taste of Dr. Pepper

9. Humans attacked by pigeons with tire irons

8. 20% of population comes down with less dangerous "bird hiccups"

7. Every time someone says, "chicken," all the characters chug a beer

6. Hilarious scene in which Leslie Nielsen confuses his Tamiflu with his Viagra

5. Every single person in the world ends up at General Hospital

4. The big villain? Larry Bird

3. Sad conclusion in which Charlie Brown puts a bullet in Woodstock

2. Hilarious scene where the guy playing President Bush actually solves the problem

1. Sole survivors Michael Jackson and Rosie O'Donnell are forced to repopulate the earth
May 12th, 2006


A Stomach-Clenching Sense of Panic

China’s Xinhua news agency reports on life in America:

An alarmist TV movie "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in
America"  being shown in the U.S. now has aroused a stomach-clenching sense of panic among the American public.


A terrific movie, "Fatal Contact" tells a fictitious but vivid story of an avian flu pandemic threatening millions of lives.


An exaggeration? The Medical News Today reports:


We have received 112 emails from people in the USA with questions ranging from ‘How could other countries be so selfish as to withhold vaccines?' to ‘I woke up with a temperature and a cough this morning, do you think I may have caught the bird flu?'


As the movie was pure fiction, not a documentary, and bird flu has not yet arrived in the USA, it baffles me how people can be angry at other countries or wonder whether they are infected.

May 11th, 2006


Europe – Where’s the Bird Flu?

The New York Times, in a lengthy report, notices that – contrary to many expectations - migrating birds have not brought the bird flu virus to Europe this year.


International health officials had feared that the disease was likely to spread to Africa during the winter migration and return to Europe with a vengeance during the reverse migration this spring. That has not happened…


"It is quiet now in terms of cases, which is contrary to what many people had expected," said Ward Hagemeijer, an avian influenza specialist with Wetlands International, an environmental group based in the Netherlands that studies migratory birds.


In thousands of samples collected in Africa this winter, H5N1 was not detected in a single wild bird, officials and scientists said. In Europe, there have been only a handful of cases detected in wild birds since April 1, at the height of the northward migration.


The number of cases in Europe has decreased so dramatically compared to February, when dozens of new cases were found daily, that experts believe the northward spring migration played no role. There was one grebe in Denmark on April 28 — the last case — as well as a falcon in Germany and a few swans in France, according to the World Organization for Animal Health, based in Paris.


…"Is it like Y2K, where also nothing happened?" asked Juan Lubroth, a senior veterinary official at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, referring to the expected computer failures as the year 1999 turned to 2000. "Perhaps it is because it was not as bad as we feared, or perhaps it is because people took the right measures."


Still, he and others say, the lack of wild bird cases in Europe only underscores how little is understood about the virus.

May 11th, 2006