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Bird Flu - Archives


November 20th - November 30th, 2005

WHO Update

Here are the latest bird flu figures from the World Health Organization, starting from December 26, 2003. These are confirmed cases only. The recent controversy over the possibility of 300 bird flu deaths in China has shown that the actual number of cases could be radically different from the official figures.


China – since mid-October there have been 25 bird flu outbreaks in nine provinces. Altogether, three cases of human infection have been confirmed in China, two of them fatal.


Indonesia – a 16-year-old West Java boy is in stable condition in hospital after suffering from the H5N1 virus. It brings the total number of cases in Indonesia to 12, of which seven have been fatal. However, two of the boy’s brothers died before his hospitalization, having displayed similar symptoms. No samples were taken before their burial, and it cannot be confirmed that they were bird flu victims.


Vietnam – the latest case is a 15-year-old boy, who has now been discharged from hospital and is recovering. Altogether, Vietnam has reported 93 cases of human infection, including 42 deaths.


Thailand – the latest case, early in November, was an 18-month-old boy who has recovered. Thailand has reported 21 cases, with 13 of them fatal.


Cambodia – the only other country with reported cases of human infection. Cambodia has had no new reported cases since April this year, and the figure remains at four cases, all of them fatal.

November 30th, 2005


North Korea – Should We Start Worrying?

Reuters reports that “a steady stream” of official statements from North Korea on preparations to fight bird flu raises the possibility that a new outbreak has already occurred there.


North Korea had an outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu virus earlier this year. Initially it did not announce the outbreak at two poultry farms near Pyongyang, saying it was merely stepping up preventive measures. Within the past month, North Korea's official KCNA news agency has made five statements about its effort to prevent bird flu as well as covering the subject on state TV and radio.


"Of course all these reports raise questions about whether an outbreak has occurred, but there is no evidence now to suggest one," said Kwon Tae-jin, director of North Korea agricultural studies at South Korea's state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute. Kwon noted the North had to appeal for international help to stamp out its previous outbreak. "North Korea is on very high alert for bird flu since it does not have enough resources and adequate organisation," he said.

November 29th, 2005


A Brilliant Jeremiad

I noted a couple of weeks ago that The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu by Mike Davis got a scathing review at Tech Central Station (under the headline, “One Flu from the Cuckoo’s Nest”). But now the New York Times describes it as a “brilliant, concise jeremiad.” It is said that controversy sells books. This one should do well.

November 28th, 2005


Tamiflu Update

Indonesia will start manufacturing Tamiflu in three to five months. Roche, which has production rights for the drug, and Gilead Sciences, which developed it, do not hold an Indonesian patent. It is likely that manufacture will be carried out by two state-owned drugs companies, PT Kimia Farma and PT Indofarma, using raw materials sourced from China, India and South Korea.


The Taiwan Intellectual Property Office is likely to authorize local production of Tamiflu, in violation of the rights of Roche and Gilead.


Roche chief executive Franz B. Humer has told the New York Times that it will announce in early December which companies will be allowed to start their own Tamiflu production.

November 28th, 2005


Have 300 Chinese Really Died of Bird Flu?

A few days ago came reports that a reputable Japanese scientist had told a conference in Germany that confidential sources had revealed to him that 300 people had died in China from H5N1 bird flu, including seven cases of human-to-human transmission.


According to the report, the scientist, Masato Tashiro, head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease, had learned of the deaths while working with WHO to investigate a flu outbreak in Hunan.


The Chinese Health Ministry has denied the report....continue reading Have 300 Chinese Really Died of Bird Flu?

November 27th 2005


Star Anise Report

A Reuters reporter visits the Chinese city of Gulong, center of the star anise trade, and writes a fascinating report on the spice that is used to make shikimic acid, the base ingredient of the tamiflu drug.


Among his findings:


After an unusually small harvest in 2001, prices soared to the highest anyone here had ever seen -- well above current levels. Since then, however, they have declined sharply. Many farmers are making losses, or barely scraping by.


"Bird flu may save the star anise farmer," said Wei Xingsong, deputy director of the Guangxi Star Anise Confederation and head of a company in Gulong that sells star anise to exporters. But he says he is not optimistic. "The peasants don't have any enthusiasm at all for star anise," he said. In Gulong, farmers sold most of their crop before the star anise craze hit and prices rose, Wei and others said.


"At current market prices, it's hard for us farmers to operate," said Zhou Yongzhuang, 33. Zhou has considered chopping down his 1,000 or so trees and he is not alone. Many others in these verdant hills also are considering getting out of star anise, Wei said. But for now, they have decided to wait and see if prices keep rising.


That could be a risky proposition. About a third of the shikimic acid Roche uses is man-made and the firm is said to be seeking ways to expand the amount.

November 26th 2005


Human Infection in Israel?

Has bird flu hit the Middle East? The Israeli Health Ministry is arranging tests of the blood of a local man who was in hospital last week with flu-like symptoms. He has since recovered.


According to Haaretz:


The Health Ministry reported Tuesday that it was examining suspicions that the Galilee resident, who feeds birds at the nature reserve, had contracted avian flu. A test on saliva taken from his pharynx showed that he did not carry the virus, but on Thursday it was revealed that his blood tests raised suspicions that he had the disease, and had probably contracted a virulent strain of the virus.


To date, the only reported human cases since late-2003 have been in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

November 26th 2005


Biota vs. GSK

Biota Holdings, which developed the Relenza anti-flu drug, has been unable to resolve its dispute with GlaxoSmithKline, which holds the license to market the drug. Consequently, Biota’s legal action against GSK has resumed. Biota claims that GSK breached the licensing agreement, and is seeking damages of A$308-430 million (US$227-317 million).

November 26th 2005


Scary News from China – "300 Dead"

This doesn’t sound good. A Japanese scientist has told a “stunned meeting” of virologists in Germany that 300 Chinese have died of H5N1 bird flu, including seven cases of human-to-human transmission. He said Chinese colleagues, who disclosed the figures to him, had been threatened with arrest if they publicly revealed the extent of the problem.


Masato Tashiro, head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease – a WHO-collaborating centre for bird flu – told the meeting of virologists in Marburg, Germany, on 19 November that “we have been systematically deceived”. His comments were reported in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung….Tashiro could not be reached for comment today. The newspaper reported that he said the numbers came from sources he trusted, while he was in Hunan province for the WHO, working with Chinese investigators on the recent H5N1 outbreak there.


He said five Chinese medical personnel had been arrested for trying to report these cases, according to the paper. China enforced severe restrictions on the investigation and reporting of suspected cases of bird flu in June 2005….Virologists consider the relative absence of human cases of bird flu in China unusual, given its widespread infection in birds. China has reported poultry outbreaks in twenty counties all across the country since mid-October, the latest being on Thursday.


….There are other unconfirmed reports of human cases in China. Boxun News, an independent Chinese website, reported this week that 77 workers brought in to help control rampant H5N1 outbreaks in poultry in Liaoning province in November have died of the virus, listing 14 names. Boxun reported the extent of the outbreak in wild birds at Qinghai Lake in central China in May, and alleged then that 120 people had been put in stringent hospital isolation in a nearby town, possibly with bird flu.

November 25th 2005


New Bird Flu Vaccine Could Take Two More Years

Australian newspapers are carrying some useful reports on the rush to develop new bird flu vaccines, based on remarks by Brian McNamee, the chief executive of local pharmaceuticals company CSL.


Among his comments:


"I think it likely that there will be a prototype vaccine that stimulates the immune response," Dr McNamee said. "What we don't know is what the dose is and whether we need an adjuvant (an ingredient or treatment that enhances the immune response) – they're the two questions.


"I think those questions will be answered in the next two years. It could be faster than that, but if you need an adjuvant it may take that long. We need to be realistic."


Dr McNamee said CSL was optimistic and working hard on developing a vaccine for the H5N1 strain of bird flu as soon as possible, but the company could not forecast the data it needed to develop a vaccine….CSL was one of four major companies globally trying to develop a bird flu vaccine, but all of the companies had agreed to share data.


"We would feel that Sanofi and ourselves probably have the best data coming out shortly, GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) have some interesting data as well, and Chiron are doing some interesting work with an adjuvanted vaccine," Dr McNamee said. "We well know that there's not enough manufacturing capacity in the whole world so we have to behave this way."

November 24th 2005


Is Your Thanksgiving Turkey Safe from Bird Flu?

Is your Thanksgiving turkey safe from bird flu? Yes, of course it is. Bird flu hasn’t been found in the US, and in any case cooked poultry is quite safe.


Nevertheless, some people are worried. Iowa governor Tom Vilsack has broken with local tradition and is refusing to pardon a turkey this Thanksgiving, instead urging people to “honor the turkey-eating tradition.”


However, the Washington Times has reported that turkey sales are “brisk,” with consumers – so far – apparently not worried about bird flu....continue reading Is Your Thanksgiving Turkey Safe from Bird Flu?

November 23rd 2005


New Website

The Australian government has launched a new website, with information on bird flu. It includes medical information, corporate pandemic planning guidance and travel advice.

November 23rd 2005


Success! – Koreans Make Tamiflu; Taiwanese Find New Shikimic Acid Source

Korean news sources are reporting that a local firm, Hanmi Pharmaceutical, has succeeded in producing its own version of Tamiflu. Earlier, 16 Korean drugs companies had responded to a call from the Korean Food and Drug Administration to produce generic Tamiflu samples by December 5th. So far, Hanmi is the only company to have reported success, and it is now in negotiation with Roche about obtaining a licence to begin full production.


The Bangkok Post is reporting that Taiwanese scientists have succeeded in extracting shikimic acid – the base material of Tamiflu – from three local plants. Until now, the main natural source of the acid has been the star anise plant, and this is in increasingly short supply, due to soaring demand from Tamiflu’s manufacturer Roche.

November 22nd 2005


If Symptoms Persist, Consult Your Stockbroker

Britain’s The Observer newspaper provides bird flu investment guidance, under the headline, “Bird flu: if symptoms persist, consult your stockbroker…”


Research from the global portfolio strategists at giant American finance house Citigroup sums it up in a nutshell - sell British Airways and BP, buy Blockbuster and Nintendo. The lesson is that in the case of a serious outbreak, we will be too frightened to leave our homes.


….On the other hand, the best case scenario leads to a temporary blip - the markets hate uncertainty - but this is, in fact, a buying opportunity, just as happened during the Asian SARS crisis three years ago. Buy telecoms, internet and, of course, drugs companies. “While it is difficult to quantify the likelihood of a human pandemic, our analysis suggests avian flu is a rising risk to the global economic outlook,” says the report.


Or in other words: first see your doctor, then get a second opinion from your stockbroker.

November 21st 2005


Australia Announces Bird Flu “SWAT Teams”

Australia plans to form rapid deployment teams to combat bird flu outbreaks in Asia, as part of a A$100 million aid program announced by Prime Minister John Howard.


Howard said that “Australia had sophisticated public health expertise that should be shared with neighbouring countries to bolster their disaster planning.”


"The greatest thing we can do is to help them build their own capacity," he said. "It's a much easier thing for a country such as Australia or the United States or Japan that has a very high per capita GDP and has a very well-developed public health system, but even those systems can be put under enormous strain in exceptional circumstances. It's a lot more difficult for countries that are less developed and plainly we want to be a good neighbour and we want to help build their capacity."

November 20th, 2005


The BBC Reports from Vietnam

Vietnam accounts for two-thirds of the 66-odd bird flu deaths reported since December 2003. The disease is said to be spreading rapidly through the country’s domestic bird population. Yet a BBC reporter found Vietnamese health officials surprisingly optimistic about the prospects for beating the problem.


Mr Quang, our Foreign Ministry minder, radiated confidence - as no doubt he was required to - in front of journalists. But he was also articulating the self-belief of a country which once defeated the Japanese, the French and the Americans. Where other countries are floundering in panic over the arrival of bird flu, Vietnam says it will prevail.


…The government has announced that all 260 million birds in the poultry industry will be inoculated over the next few months with new vaccines developed in China. A near impossible task, you might think, given the number of households which own just a handful of ducks and chickens. "You see, that's the advantage of living in a communist system," said Nguyen Xuan Vui, the animal health director in Ha Tay, the province we were permitted to visit. "Once the central government gives the order, the entire country can be mobilised to fight bird flu."


It’s an excellent report, and well worth reading in full.

November 20th, 2005