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Bird Flu - Archives


November 13th - November 19th, 2005

What’s Happening in Japan?

Suddenly, we keep hearing reports of deaths or strange behavior in Japan from people who have taken Tamiflu. A week ago the Japanese Health Ministry revealed that two teenagers apparently committed suicide after taking Tamiflu. Now come reports of a series of other cases, forcing the US Food and Drug Administration to investigate:


An FDA advisory panel Friday said that Tamiflu is safe and apparently unrelated to the deaths of 12 Japanese children who took the drug. The Food and Drug Administration panel did suggest adding warnings about possible serious skin conditions, and said the FDA should review the drug safety profile again in a year. But by a unanimous vote, they said there was no evidence to link the drug to the deaths or to serious psychiatric events in children.


The 12 deaths in the past 13 months included one suicide, four cases of sudden death and four heart attacks. Other deaths involved asphyxiation, pneumonia and acute pancreatitis. There have also been 32 cases of psychiatric abnormalities, including delusions, hallucinations and delirium, reported in children who had taken Tamiflu. Thirty-one of the cases involving psychiatric episodes occurred in Japan. Two of the psychiatric cases involved teenagers who jumped from second-floor windows after taking two doses of the drug.


"In many of these cases, a relationship to Tamiflu was difficult to assess because of the use of other medications, presence of other medical conditions, and/or lack of adequate detail. The level of detail in these reports was highly variable and determining the contribution of Tamiflu to the deaths was difficult," an FDA summary said.


According to a report in New Scientist, “a safety committee of the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) has also requested information from the drug's manufacturer Roche.” The reports have caused a sharp dip in the share price of Chugai Pharmaceutical, which markets Tamiflu in Japan.

November 19th, 2005


A Bird Named Enza

Where are all the bird flu books? I asked last week. I got an email from Dawn Meier in Sheridan, Oregon:


I have had a "bird flu" book out since 2003, before the current pandemic scare. Mine is not full of advice, but a poignant story of one town and how they coped with the influenza of 1918. Where are all the bird flu books? Just waiting to be published. 


I have tried to peddle my book since 2003 and finally self-published “A Bird Named Enza.” 

After I sold a few hundred books, I put it online for free.


My only accomplishment from this book is one high school here in Oregon that is reading “A Bird Named Enza” as part of their English curriculum. I go speak to the kids two times a year. These high school students are at least well aware of current events by reading my book. 


I have been trying in the past year to find a publisher that will publish my book at a more reasonable price than self-publishing on-demand prices of $12.95. I want more schools to be able to afford to purchase the book. So the books are out there, just not being considered for publication.


You can read “A Bird Named Enza” here.

November 19th, 2005


Bird Flu – Travel Advice

Some useful travel advice is at the TravelVideo website. In summary, it says:


At this time, avian influenza activity continues to persist in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Romania and Croatia. In fowl, past outbreaks have been reported in Thailand, the People’s Republic of China, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

Human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) have been reported in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Most human cases have been caused by direct contact with infected fowl. Human-to-human transmission, although rare, is suspected to have occurred in some of the documented cases.

November 19th, 2005


The Best Bird Flu Humor on the Internet – A Top Ten List

Bird flu jokes are all over the internet. Here are my favorites, compiled in the form of a Top Ten list.


10. Big Bird Quarantined for Avian Flu, at Humor Gazette, and Tweety Dead of Bird Flu, at The Spoof.


9. U.S. PLANS TO MAKE BIRDS OBESE: Would Slow the Spread of Avian Flu, President Asserts. An article in the Borowitz Report.


8. The Bird Flu Shop is a commercial enterprise marketing T-shirts, mugs, calendars, greeting cards, etc, bearing dozens of different bird flu slogans. Most are pretty lame, in my opinion, but several are gently comical: “Lunch Special – Pandemic Chicken.”


7. You’ve probably seen this photo already. It’s all over the internet, usually with a caption like, “Bird Flu Reaches America.” Another mildly amusing photo is here.


6. I think you might have to be British to understand this “Yobs” cartoon strip from Private Eye magazine.



5. Top Ten Signs You've Purchased a Fake Flu Shot from David Letterman. “No. 10: The doctor looks a lot like the guy who hooked up your illegal cable box.”


4. “Today, President Bush outlined the U.S. government’s plan to fight a bird flu outbreak. Apparently the plan is to attack the flu over there in Iraq, before it attacks us here.” Compilations of Jay Leno monologues, including some good bird flu jokes, are here and here.


3. Bush Orders Mass Bald Eagle Slaughter to Stop Spread of Bird Flu – a report in The Onion. Also from The Onion: Nation’s Leading Alarmists Excited about Bird Flu and KFC Introduces New Bird-Flu Dipping Vaccine.


2. Top Ten Dumb Guy Tips for Avoiding the Bird Flu from Letterman. “No. 9: Don't lick unfamiliar pigeons.”


1. The Daily Show has several great reports available online in streaming video. There’s senior epidemiologist Samantha Bee’s Flu Fever. And don't miss Rob Corddry's hilarious HealthScare: Avian Flu - the funniest piece of bird flu humor on the internet.

November 17th, 2005     LINK

Now China

China has confirmed its first cases of bird flu, with three victims, two of whom have died. According to the New York Times:


China's Health Ministry said this evening that bird flu had been confirmed in a 9-year-old boy and his 12-year-old sister in central China's Hunan Province and in a 36-year-old woman in Anhui Province in east-central China. The boy has recovered and was released from the hospital last weekend; the girl and the woman died.


In confirming all three cases as infections with the H5N1 bird flu virus, the Chinese authorities went even further than the W.H.O. was willing to go. The W.H.O. agreed late today that the boy and the woman, a teacher, had been infected with bird flu. But the sister's body was cremated before her case became the subject of international medical attention, and the W.H.O. concluded that samples drawn before she died were not adequate for determining whether she had bird flu.

November 17th, 2005


Roche and Gilead End Their Dispute

Gilead Sciences, which developed Tamiflu, and Roche Holding, which has the license to produce and market it, have ended a dispute over their contract. Roche will make a $62.5 million retroactive royalty payment to Gilead, which will also gain additional rights over promoting the drug.

November 17th, 2005


Vaccinations in China, Mutations in Vietnam

China plans to vaccinate all five billion of the country’s poultry against H5N1 bird flu. The announcement comes after a series of flu outbreaks in birds.


According to the New Scientist:


The move will slow the spread of the virus and reduce human exposure to it, but will also make any remaining virus hard to detect….Officials have blamed outbreaks in Liaoning, where a woman is suspected of contracting the disease, on the use of faulty or fake vaccines on poultry. But it is known that the virus can persist and spread even in properly vaccinated birds unless stringent precautions are taken.


The journal also confirms alarming news from Vietnam:


H5N1 has already been mutating rapidly in Vietnam, where few chickens are vaccinated. Cao Bao Van, head of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, told the Vietnamese press this week that 24 isolates of H5N1 from poultry and humans, taken between December 2003 and March 2005, show “significant variation”.


Cao was also quoted as saying a mutation had been observed in the PB2 gene of a virus isolated from a human case in March, which “allows more effective breeding of the virus in mammals”. PB2 codes for part of the polymerase enzyme which replicates the virus.


That mutation, at amino acid number 627 of the protein, changes the glutamic acid of bird flu to the lysine typical of human flu. The change allows the virus to replicate in the human respiratory tract, which is cooler than the bird guts where bird flu normally replicates.


The same mutation has been turning up since 2004 in several isolates of H5N1 from humans and other mammals in East Asia and shows the virus is adapting to mammals while infecting them. It was also a feature of the 1918 pandemic virus, which was a bird flu virus that adapted to humans.

November 16th, 2005


New Bird Flu Website

The US poultry industry has launched a new website, Avian Influenza, intended to provide information on bird flu, and to reassure a nervous public. It is an initiative of the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation and the Egg Safety Center.

November 16th, 2005


Up and Down

Shares in bird flu companies Roche Holding and its Japanese partner Chugai Pharmaceutical fell yesterday after reports that Tamiflu – made by Roche – might have caused two Japanese teenage boys to commit suicide. Roche has said there is no clear evidence that the drug was responsible.


But shares in Avant Immunotherapeutics soared more than 10% on news that it is developing a bird flu vaccine.


Also developing a vaccine is the Russian Flu Research Center, according to the Novosti news agency. It believes it could be ready for commercial production by February or March next year. Just one problem – not enough money.

November 15th, 2005


Where Are All the Bird Flu Books?

Some writers get lucky. John Barry spent seven years writing The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, about the 1918 pandemic. At times, he says, he got so frustrated with the project that he felt like quitting. It was published last year, and, soon after, the world started talking about a new flu pandemic. When President George Bush went on vacation in August he announced that Barry’s book was one of those he was taking to read. Sales are buoyant.


Publishers are quick to spot trends and to rush out books to meet them. So it would be normal to expect a flood of new bird flu books. Where are they?


My guess is that this is such a fast-moving story – new developments appear almost daily, as this blog and others attest – that publishers fear any book will quickly be out-of-date....continue reading Where Are All the Bird Flu Books?

November 14th, 2005


Today’s News Is Not Good

Item 1 – The Japanese health ministry has revealed that two teenage boys who took Tamiflu subsequently exhibited abnormal behavior that led to their deaths. A 17-year-old boy took Tamiflu, then left home in his pajamas and jumped in front of a truck. A 14-year-old boy fell from the ninth floor of his apartment building after taking the drug.


In Japan the drug carries a warning of possible impaired consciousness, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and other psychological and neurological symptoms. The ministry is considering issuing a fresh warning….The Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency said there were 64 cases of psychological disorders linked to the drug between fiscal 2000 and 2004.


Item 2 - The Chinese government says an eighth outbreak of bird flu within a month is creating a "very serious situation" because the virus seems to be spreading.


Item 3 - Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute has found that the bird flu virus strain H5N1 in the country has mutated to make it more dangerous.

November 13th, 2005


Pigs Not Infected

The Hunan provincial government has denied reports – for example, here and here – that local pigs have been infected with bird flu.

November 13th, 2005


Sauerkraut "Could Fight Bird Flu"

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that sauerkraut could become a “secret weapon” against bird flu. It says scientists believe it contains bacteria that helps combat the disease. Sauerkraut sales are apparently already rising in the UK. There have been reports that Korean kimchi (also spelled kimchee) has been shown as effective against bird flu. Both sauerkraut and kimchi are made from fermented cabbage.

November 13th, 2005