Latest news about bird flu (avian influenza)


Tamiflu Still Choice for Bird Flu, Pandemic

GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that despite new research indicating some viral resistance to Tamiflu, it remained its "drug of choice" for protection against bird flu and in case of a human flu pandemic.

Klaus Stohr, head of WHO's influenza program, also called for more data after Japanese researchers reported last week that resistance to Tamiflu, made by Switzerland's Roche, may be more common than previously thought.
The research raised questions about how the drug should be used in a major pandemic, which experts fear could break out if the bird flu virus now endemic in Asia jumps to infect humans.

Tamiflu, or oseltamivir, belongs to a class of drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors that work by blocking the action of viral enzymes.

"This study will not change the possible usefulness of neuraminidase inhibitors as the drug of choice during the initial phase of a pandemic," Stohr told a news briefing.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka and colleagues at the University of Tokyo, who analyzed samples from a group of 50 Japanese children given the drug, found that flu viruses had mutated to resist the medicine in 18 percent of the patients.

Writing in The Lancet medical journal, they said that resistant strains of viruses were first detected 4 days after the start of treatment and on each successive day of the study.

"We have to assess the data ... it is important but small-scale and has to be repeated," Stohr said.

"It is complicated to deduce from the study because in Japan, in the study, children were not treated according to the normal treatment schedule - it was shorter and stopped earlier - and the dosage was much lower," he added.

Tamiflu has been "very important in drug treatment of avian flu in humans or influenza in general," Stohr said.

Used earlier this year to help protect Asian workers culling chickens infected with bird flu, it was Roche's 12th-biggest drug last year with 431 million Swiss francs ($338.3 million) in sales.


Malaysian poultry ban may be lifted in 2 weeks

The ban on egg and poultry imports from Malaysia could be lifted around Sept 12, if no new cases of bird flu turn up across the Causeway.

- About 600 poultry and egg stallholders in government wet markets to get three-week rental rebates backdated to Aug 19.

- The levy for foreign workers in the 14 poultry slaughterhouses here will be waived for the same three-week period; also rental charges for the slaughterhouses leased from JTC Corporation and HDB.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) gave this assessment after talks with its Malaysian counterparts on Thursday.

Daily imports of 120,000 chickens, 20,000 ducks and two million eggs from Malaysia were halted on Aug 18 following the bird flu outbreak in a farm in Kelantan, near the Thai border.

The birds have been culled and the farm disinfected by Aug 20, AVA head Ngiam Tong Tau said yesterday.

A 21-day wait, mandatory under World Health Organisation guidelines, is now underway before Kelantan can be officially declared free of the disease, granted no further cases are detected.

When the 21 days are up, AVA will need 'a couple of days' to review the situation and ensure checks are in place, including working with the Malaysian authorities to put in place systems to monitor the interstate movement of poultry and eggs.

The earliest the ban can be lifted - around Sept 12.

Dr Ngiam added: 'The excellent cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia has facilitated the early review for the resumption of imports.'

Meanwhile, several Government agencies yesterday moved in with a $185,000 relief package to help some 600 poultry and egg stallholders and 14 poultry slaughterhouses.

The National Environment Agency will waive the rental for poultry and egg stalls for three weeks, backdated to Aug 19, a day after the import ban took effect.

Separately, JTC Corporation and the Housing Board will waive rentals for their poultry slaughterhouse tenants.

In addition, the Manpower Ministry will waive the foreign worker levy payable by the poultry slaughterhouses, also for the same period.

On the assistance provided, Second Minister for National Development and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Mr Lim Swee Say, said it was to signal that 'we are in this together, even though we are not in a position to compensate their loss in revenue and business.'

'What we can do is basically reduce their burden. Hopefully, they can tide over this period.'

He said that this was part of the Government's three-pronged strategy, which also included making sure food was safe to eat and prices remained stable.

Welcoming the relief package, chief operating officer of importer and distributor Elite KSB Holdings, Mr Chew Keng Wah, 43, said 40 of his 150 workers are foreigners and the levy comes up to $240 each a month. 'We greatly appreciate the help provided by the Government.'

Stallholders, like a Tekka Market egg-seller who wanted to be known as Mrs Lim, said that with almost no income coming in, the rebates will help keep their bills down.

The AVA also gave an update on the poultry and egg supply situation yesterday.

There is sufficient supply of frozen poultry and prices have remained stable as importers increased their orders from the United States, Brazil and the Netherlands.

As for eggs, the AVA said that imports from New Zealand and Australia arrived in the last few days and two more consignments are expected to arrive from Australia in the next few days.

But, given that 70 per cent of the eggs consumed here were from Malaysia, prices have more than doubled since the ban.

Mr Lim added: 'We would like stallholders and slaughterhouse owners to know that we are all in this together. We understand the kind of difficulties they are going through but I think the best help we can offer is by working closely with Malaysia so that imports can be resumed as soon as possible without compromising food safety.'


China confirms bird flu in pigs

Agriculture ministry officials said two infected pigs had been discovered, one in 2002 and one in 2003. But the cases are said to be isolated, and surveillance measures are being stepped up in the relevant areas.

The WHO fears that if pigs can harbour both bird and human flu viruses, the two strains could interact and form a strain that more easily infects humans. A bird flu epidemic has hit Asia this year, causing the deaths of more than 20 people and forcing farmers to cull almost 200 million birds. The H5N1 strain is only rarely spread from birds to humans, and there have so far been no cases of it being transmitted from human to human. But there is a fear that an epidemic of a new mutated form of the virus could be much more dangerous.

Shock announcement

The furore began last Friday, when a Chinese scientist first admitted that cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu had been found in pigs.

The announcement took the World Health Organization by surprise, and it said it was seeking clarification on the issue.

In an internet statement on Monday, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture said it had tested 1.1 million poultry and pork samples for H5N1 earlier this year, and found nothing in pigs.

But on Thursday, the government confirmed that pigs had been infected with bird flu in the past.

Jia Youling, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture's veterinary bureau, told a Beijing news conference that the two infected pigs had been found in the same area of China. But he declined to say where, citing the need to protect the interests of the local population.

Mr Jia played down the two cases, saying no pigs had actually fallen ill from bird flu, and there was no evidence of the virus being transmitted to humans.

"The H5N1 virus infecting pigs is a chance, individual occurrence. There is no evidence yet the H5N1 bird flu virus can be passed from pig to pig, or of pigs infecting people," Mr Jia told Reuters news agency.

"Should an epidemic occur, we will follow the guidelines of the relevant international organisations and report it in a timely fashion," he said.


China's Agriculture Ministry Denies Bird-Flu Found in Pigs

China's Ministry of Agriculture denied media reports that a deadly strain of bird flu had been found in pigs for the first time.

The ministry tested 1.1 million poultry and pork samples after an outbreak of bird flu in China early this year and no pigs were found to have the H5N1 virus, the ministry said in a statement on its Web site.

Scientists discovered the H5N1 strain in pigs tested in 2003 and this year, Agence France-Presse reported Friday, citing China National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory official Chen Hualan at forum on SARS and avian flu prevention in Beijing.

A chart Chen showed during a presentation indicated the virus had been found in several pig farms in China, the report said. Chen didn't provide more details, the report said. The virus had been found only in birds and poultry and its transmission to humans has been limited.

China last month reported its first case of bird flu in more than three months in the eastern province of Anhui. The outbreak has since been contained.

Chiron Wins Bird Flu Vaccine Deal

Chiron Corp. CHIR.O has won a contract to develop a human vaccine against a strain of bird flu that can infect people and "has the potential to trigger a modern-day pandemic," the U.S. government said on Tuesday.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said it had awarded Chiron, of Emeryville, California, the contract to develop a vaccine against the H9N2 strain of avian influenza virus.

Avian influenza has been sweeping through poultry farms and markets across Asia this year, killing or forcing the cull of more than 100 million birds and devastating the industry in some areas.

Some varieties cannot infect people, but some -- notably the H5N1 and H9N2 strains -- have jumped to humans and can cause an especially serious and deadly disease in people.

"In 1999 and 2003, an H9N2 influenza strain caused illness in three people in Hong Kong," the NIAID, one of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

"Scientists are concerned about H9N2 and other emerging types of avian influenza viruses because as they spread -- most commonly through poultry -- they continually mutate, increasing chances that they may infect humans, evade the body's immune response and become more lethal," it added.

"Of greatest concern is that these ever-changing avian viruses could develop the ability to spread from person to person, resulting in a fast-moving, global pandemic."

A different strain of bird flu, called H5N1, has killed 27 people across Asia this year, including 19 in Vietnam.

In 1918 a strain of flu, which scientists now say had many bird flu characteristics, swept the world, killing as many as 40 million people.

Just last week, scientists in Hong Kong sounded an alarm after finding that H9N2 was prevalent in chickens in local markets and could mutate and jump more easily to humans.

"Pandemic influenza has the potential to devastate human health right across the world, and therefore this type of public-private partnership is crucial to further our pandemic preparedness," said John Lambert, president of Chiron Vaccines.

Under the contract, Chiron will produce up to 40,000 doses of the vaccine, using an inactivated strain of the H9N2 virus developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIAID will conduct the clinical studies to see if the vaccine is safe and works in people.

Chiron said it would manufacture the vaccine at its production facilities in Siena and Rosia, Italy. The contract, worth just under $1.2 million, lasts through August 2008, the NIH said.

Oxford, Britain-based Chiron Vaccines is the world's second-largest maker of influenza vaccines. Chiron also has a U.S. government contract to make vaccine against the H5N1 bird flu strain, along with Aventis-Pasteur Inc. AVEP.PA .


Bird-flu vaccine seized in raid on Chatuchak shops

Public health officials and police yesterday seized more than 100 vials of bird-flu vaccine from two shops in Bangkok's Chatuchak district. The vaccine is banned in Thailand.

"Shop owners face up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of Bt60,000," Deputy Public Health Minister Anuthin Chanveerakul said. He said officials would continue their investigations in order to ensure that other offending sellers, as well as producers, are arrested. More than 50 officials and police officers took part in yesterday's checks on fowl shops at Chatuchak Weekend Market and the nearby Marketing Organisation for Farmers. The raids followed tip-offs that some shops were illegally selling the bird-flu vaccine.

Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan said her ministry would soon distribute documents to farmers explaining the adverse effects of the bird-flu vaccine, in order to discourage them from buying the illicit drug. "The vaccine may save infected chickens' lives, but these chickens will carry the disease, which can then be passed on to farmers and consumers," she said. Anuthin said that most fowl shops have also broken the law by either selling drugs not certified by the Food and Drug Administration or operating without a licence.

During the raids, more than 10,000 items were seized and would be sent to the Department of Medical Sciences for tests.

Bird flu raises concerns about virus evolution into pandemic

Bird flu which has killed three more people in Vietnam, the first officially cases of avian influenza since February, has raised concerns about evolution of the virus into a human pandemic.

The confirmation of the cases, the United Nations health agency says underscores the risk of virus transmission from infected poultry. Of the greatest concern is the risk that continuing transmission of virus to humans will be given avian and influenza viruses an opportunity to exchange genes, potentially giving rise to a new virus with pandemic potential, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. The cases follow an outbreak earlier this year that infected 34 people of whom 23 died, in South and East Asia and resulted in the death or culling of more than 100 million birds.

Staff from the WHO country office in Vietnam is meeting with the Ministry of Health to gather further details and work out plans to address the situation. The Government has announced an initial series of measures aimed at controlling the disease in poultry and preventing further cases in humans.

WHO regards it as particularly important that viruses from these cases be made available for further analysis by laboratories in the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance Network to determine whether it has mutated and thus yield valuable information about the further evolution of the outbreak, risks to humans, and best preventive measures.

Studies of the virus are also need in the further development, presently under way, of an effective human vaccine


Thailand bans use of bird flu vaccine

Thailand has officially banned the use of bird flu vaccine and started crackdown on any violation,the state-run Thai News Agency (TNA) reported on Tuesday.

A regulation has been adopted to ban the import, production, sale and use of all avian influenza vaccine in the country, Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan was quoted by TNA as saying.The government took the action for the sake of public health and anyone violating it would face up to five years' imprisonment,said the minister.

Meanwhile, the ministry also opened a hot line and offered cash reward for those reporting the violators.

Thailand's poultry industry was hit hard by two waves of bird flu attacks starting in February and July respectively.

In the first bird flu outbreak lasting more than three months, Thailand, the world's fourth largest poultry exporter, suffered no less than 880-million US dollar loss.

The major buyers such as Japan and the European Union haven't fully lifted their ban on the kingdom's poultry imports.

EU also warned it would ban on Thai chickens if the country carried on vaccine experiment.


International Panel Warns of Deadlier Bird Flu Virus

An international team of scientists is warning that a lesser-known strain of bird flu common among poultry in Asia is becoming deadlier and could mutate into a virus that kills humans. The panel of U.S. and Hong Kong scientists issued a study paper Tuesday saying the so-called H9N2 virus is more widespread than the strain that ravaged poultry farms in the region earlier this year, killing 24 people. They said the lesser-known strain has a greater likelihood of passing between species, including humans.

In their report, the experts said tests performed on samples from Hong Kong poultry found that the H9N2 strain has already mixed with other strains. They said this indicates an increasing chance of mutation with a human virus.

South Africa culls ostriches to contain bird flu outbreak

South Africa, the world's largest exporter of ostrich meat, began slaughtering thousands of ostriches to contain an outbreak of bird flu as the government offered compensation to the farmers.

"It has commenced," agriculture ministry official Segoati Mahlangu told AFP of the culling that is expected to see some 30,000 ostriches put down over the coming days.

Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza was holding talks with the South African Ostrich Business Chamber on compensation for the farmers affected in the Eastern Cape region of Somerset East after tests confirmed the outbreak last week.

"There is going to be compensation for all the animals that are put down," said Mahlangu, without providing details.

South Africa's 600 ostrich farmers have warned that the slaughter and an export ban on all poultry meat and products slapped on Friday could cost the ostrich industry some 100 million rand (16.2 million dollars/13.2 million euros) in losses.

"The ostrich industry employs about 20,000 people and thus it is important that the ban be lifted as soon as possible to safeguard these jobs," said a statement from the South African Ostrich Business Chamber.

The agriculture ministry has not set a duration for the poultry ban.

Traces of the mild H5N2 strain of bird flu were found in samples taken last week from two ostrich farms in the Somerset East area, north of the city of Port Elizabeth.

The agriculture ministry on Friday banned all exports of poultry and poultry products abroad including to the European Union and Switzerland, South Africa's two biggest export markets for poultry.

An official from the industry told AFP on condition of anonymity that the birds would be killed in a humane manner.

"They will be made unconscious and then be killed with what are called point pistols ... the whole process will be in line with standards set up by international animal welfare rights organizations.

"There will be no blood spilling as even the blood is contaminated. Then the birds will be buried in a mass grave."

South Africa's neighbors are expected to feel the pinch from the poultry ban as they largely depend on its products.

Mozambican agriculture ministry spokesman Adolfo Mavale said: "We have to take precautionary measures because this disease is highly contagious" but added that this would "affect national production because almost everything comes from South Africa."

A more virulent strain of bird flu, or avian influenza, hit Asia this year, killing 24 people and leading to the deaths or culling of almost 200 million birds.

An investigation was ongoing to trace the origin of the virus in the Eastern Cape and the area surrounding the affected farms remained quarantined with all movement of poultry and poultry products halted.

But Mahlangu played down fears of a devastating effect on the country's ostrich industry, saying that the birds to be culled represented a fraction of the estimated 300,000 birds exported.

Mahlangu said that test results from samples taken at other farms so far were negative, suggesting that the outbreak had not spread beyond the two farms.

This if not the first time that South Africa has grappled with bird flu. There have been outbreaks in the early 1990s that were contained, according to the agriculture ministry.


Thailand's Livestock Development Department removed 11 areas from the country's list of zones affected by bird flu on Tuesday.

The department's director Yukol Limlamthong said that 11 areas had now been removed from the list of affected zones while about 20 more locations had no new infections detected. In areas with new infections, he said the number of dead fowls was relatively small, with each area recording no more than 50 deaths.

The bird flu outbreaks in Thailand were under control, Yukol affirmed. Yukol said his department was tackling the outbreaks to ensure the disease would not interfere with frozen chicken exports next year.

A fact-finding committee is going to convene a meeting of relevant agencies and branches this week to investigate how bird flu resurfaced following a brief respite earlier this year.


Pigs may help spread bird flu among humans

Scientists are investigating whether pigs could provide the "mixing vessel" for human and avian flu strains that would allow for deadly human-to-human transmission, as new outbreaks of avian flu virus appear in Thailand, China and Vietnam.

Professor Malik Peiris, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the much-hyped human pandemic has not occurred because the virus has so far failed to readily make that human-to-human transmission. "What is really important is you do not keep allowing this virus to try this on the human population, because then you increase the chance of that adaptation occurring," he said. "For the poultry industry it is absolutely crucial [to bring it under control] and from the human health point of view."

The warning comes as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, which hosted a three-day international workshop on avian flu in Bangkok this week, supported the increased use of vaccines to control the virus. The organisation's shift comes as new outbreaks of the H5N1 strain were confirmed in 12 Vietnamese provinces and 18 Thai provinces. It has also reemerged in China.

Dr Lawrence Gleeson, principal research scientist at the CSIRO's Animal Health Laboratory, who was in Bangkok for the meeting, said: "On balance it still presents a risk. It is incumbent on animal health authorities to try to control this disease to get the amount of the virus circulating in the poultry population down to a manageable level so that the public health risk is simultaneously reduced. "If the transmission became as virulent in humans as it is in poultry ... it would be absolutely horrific. "In almost 50 per cent of cases reported the people have died."

Professor Peiris said scientists are carefully monitoring the role pigs could play in human-to-human transmission. Research had shown the human flu virus, H3N2, has been regularly found in pigs from China since 1998. In the US, quite independently, the human virus has jumped to pigs. "If you take human viruses and put them into a chicken it will not replicate," he said. "If you take an avian virus and put it in a human, it will not replicate most of the time. There is a barrier ... but both viruses will happily replicate in a pig ... so that's why the hypothesis has been put forward that the pig could be the mixing vessel for the human and avian viruses."

Professor Peiris said the virus probably started in ducks, and then adapted to chickens but it has not adapted to any other mammalian species. "Pigs are an important question mark, particularly with the pattern of backyard farming in this region where you have pigs together with poultry side by side," he said. "In this part of the world the human virus [in pigs] is still totally human, which is the worrying thing. It provides this opportunity for the avian virus to mix its genes with the human virus, and that is one of the ways previous pandemics have arisen. "Although there is no proof as to where the mixing occurred, the suspicion is it might have happened in a pig," he said.


U.N. officials move on bird flu vaccines

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization moved toward loosening its stand on vaccinating fowl against the bird flu virus, which ravaged Asia's poultry industry earlier this year and killed 24 people in the region.

Veterinarians and scientists from 10 Asian countries meeting in Bangkok accepted FAO-recommended guidelines on curbing the disease, He Changchui, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, said Friday.

The new guidelines give affected nations more leeway to use vaccinations than the FAO had previously suggested, said Joseph Domenech, chief of the agency's Animal Health Service. International health and agricultural authorities had earlier promoted culling — which is faster than vaccinations — mainly due to the epidemic's massive scale and quick spread.

Experts had also worried that vaccination could present problems such as controlling the vaccine's quality and availability. There are also more labor costs, since each bird has to be vaccinated twice.

The FAO has changed its stance because it now has more evidence that ducks and wild birds spread the disease, raising the overall risk factor for animals and humans alike — so every viable option should be used — Domenech said. "We recognize that the virus will circulate for many years," Domenech said, adding that the new guidelines still call for culling and sanitary measures as the first line of defense. The FAO "is not pushing vaccination, but recognizes it as an option," he said Friday in a speech closing the three-day Bangkok meeting.

About 100 million chickens died or were culled when bird flu swept Asia earlier this year. It also infected some humans, killing eight in Thailand and 16 in Vietnam. Earlier this month, the virus resurfaced in poultry in Thailand, Vietnam, China and Indonesia.

Domenech said quality control and costs were still important issues when considering vaccination, although availability was not a problem. Vaccination is "still considered not an easy way," he said.

FAO spokesman Diderick de Vleeschauwer said the draft guidelines, approved in principle at the Bangkok meeting, were still several stages from official adoption. They will first be submitted to the FAO's Rome headquarters, then forwarded to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health — better known by its French acronym OIE — which will have the final say on the guidelines' acceptance. De Vleeschauwer said he expected the new guidelines to be published at the end of August.

Participants at the Bangkok meeting also agreed to launch a Southeast Asia veterinary network to strengthen the campaign against bird flu, he said. Representatives came to the meeting from Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam.

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