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Nearly Current overview from AP / WHO / CDC catching bird flu

The news about bird flu (avian influenza) in December of 2004


Thai gov't to draw up bird flu vaccine trial plans

Thai government officials are to meet next week to determine the zones for avian flu vaccine trials, the Director of the government's avian flu operation centre, Dr. Charal Trinvuthipong, revealed on Friday.

Dr. Charal was quoted by the Thai News Agency as saying Saturday that the meeting on Dec. 27 would select zones which had been affected by the bird flu pandemic, but said that the government had not yet decided which provinces it would choose.

He said the test would be conducted in areas where outbreaks of the bird flu occurred earlier this year.

He also revealed that government study tours to Vietnam and China had shown that several practices to stamp out avian flu used in those two countries could be adapted for use in Thailand.

Dismissing foreign media accusations of a cover-up in Thailand, he said that Thailand's image as a country where the pandemic was rife was largJapan Found Bird Flu in Flies from 2004 Outbreakely a result of the government's widespread and open reporting.

Delay in detection of bird flu in Japana inexcusable

by: Yomiuri Shimbun

Questions must be raised as to why it has taken such a long time to determine that former employees at a poultry farm in Kyoto Prefecture struck early this year by a massive outbreak of bird flu were infected with the virus during the incident.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry investigation has found that the avian influenza virus infected one of the former employees at the chicken farm in February. Why then were the results of the ministry's investigation not announced until the end of the year? This delay is very disturbing.

The prevention of any epidemic requires early and vigilant efforts to ascertain the true state of the spread of an infectious disease. The ministry's delay in releasing the results of its investigation into the spread of avian flu at the poultry farm in question casts doubt on whether the government can implement adequate measures to deal with such emergencies as the spread of a new strain of influenza, unknown infectious diseases, or biological terrorist attacks.

The former poultry farm employee was one of many who helped dispose of thousands of chickens at the facility. The ministry also said bird flu had probably infected three other former employees who engaged in disposal work, as well as one Kyoto prefectural employee who inspected the farm.

The five people were particularly susceptible to the avian flu because during their work there, they wore no flu masks or protective clothing and took no antiviral medicines.


Public safe--this time

Fortunately, none of the five developed any symptoms of avian flu. Their cases seem to have been mild, as indicated by the fact that the avian flu virus was not found in their blood. Therefore, there is no risk of secondary infection. The spread of bird flu at the farm has been contained, meaning that consumers are not at risk of contracting the disease this time.

The investigation was conducted by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. When one is infected with a virus, the body develops antibodies in the blood as a result of an immune reaction. To determine whether they had bird flu, blood samples were taken from the former employees and others engaged in preventing bird flu at the farm from spreading to other locations.

The ministry said it took a long time to convince the employees to allow blood samples to be taken and to develop a fool-proof method of detecting the virus. In total, about 7,000 people were engaged in containing the epidemic, but only 58 of them were tested for the disease.

Admittedly, it is no easy task to ensure that everyone takes such a test, whether they want to or not. Still, the government should urge members of the public to recognize the importance of doing so. It is also necessary to examine whether the current infectious disease control laws are flawed. It is no less important for the central and local governments to shore up their antiviral research and inspection systems.


Speed is of the essence

The turmoil arising from the chicken farm in Kyoto Prefecture highlighted how vital it is to implement necessary measures as soon as possible when it comes to fighting an epidemic. At the initial stage of the epidemic, the operator of the chicken farm failed to inform the prefectural government and other relevant authorities of the situation. Farm employees were left defenseless against the flu until an anonymous phone call tipped off the prefectural government to the problem.

In recent years, Asia has been struck by frequent outbreaks of bird flu. The disease infected 44 people in Thailand and Vietnam. Of these, 32 died.

Frequent cases of bird-to-human infection could lead to a mutation of the avian flu virus into a virus that passes easily from human to human, resulting in a new variant of a highly pathogenic influenza. The death toll caused by the spread of such a flu would be unimaginable.

Past variants of influenza that raged across some parts of the world began as avian viruses.

Having determined that the former chicken farm employee was infected with bird flu, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is calling for the early detection of avian influenza, accompanied by efforts to swiftly report the disease to relevant authorities and ensure that personnel engaged in containing the spread of the disease wear protective clothing. The central and local governments, as well as poultry farmers, must take these directives to heart.


Sri Lanka tests for bird flu

SRI Lanka culled 100 chickens and sent tissue samples abroad for testing for bird flu as a precautionary measure after eight people died from a flu-like virus, Health Ministry officials said today.

Initial tests conducted in Sri Lanka came out negative for avian flu, which has never previously been detected in the Indian Ocean island.

"Two patients tested positive for influenza B and one for influenza A, but there is nothing to indicate that the patients are infected with the bird flu or influenza H5N1", Doctor Nihal Abeysinghe, an epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health told reporters in Colombo.

More than fifty people were receiving treatment in hospitals along the country's southern coastal belt for severe respiratory difficulties, which medical experts suspect is a variation of viral influenza, officials said.

"A team of veterinarians visited the village where two deaths were reported and there was a chicken farm nearby. The team suggested we cull the birds as a precautionary measure," Dr. Abeysinghe said.


Thailand tourism flourishes despite bird flu, Muslim violence

The number of tourists visiting Thailand increased this year by about 20 percent, despite bird flu and violence in the deep south, the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand said Friday. And another banner year is forecast for 2005.

A total of 12 million tourists will have visited the country by year's end, bringing in revenues of 384 billion baht (US$9.77 billion; euro7.35 billion), an increase of 24.2 percent from 2003, the TAT said.

"How can we make a big jump like that when there's bird flu... The southern unrest?" TAT Governor Juthamas Siriwan told reporters. "The main thing is that everyone — not just TAT alone, but the tourism industry... worked very hard. Thailand is very hot right now."

Juthamas said a large portion of the growth came from strong markets including Japan, the United States and the Middle East.

She also attributed the massive growth to government plugs for tourism, which has been one of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's top priorities.

Thaksin has downplayed bird flu and a growing Muslim insurgency in the southern provinces for the sake of sustaining the country's no. 1 income earner.

The avian influenza outbreaks in Asia forced authorities to cull more than 100 million poultry birds in an effort to control the situation. The virus spread to humans as well, killing 12 people in Thailand and 20 in Vietnam.

There were also fears that tourism would be hurt by the violence in southern provinces bordering Malaysia - the only Muslim majority area in mostly Buddhist Thailand.

In 2003, 10 million tourists visited Thailand, a drop of 7.4 percent from the year before, due to the SARS respiratory disease that killed 349 people in mainland China and sickened thousands worldwide before subsiding in July 2003.

Juthamas said Thailand is aiming for 13.4 million tourists in 2005, and in 2008, more than 20 million tourists and tourism revenues of 789 billion baht (US$20.1 billion; euro15.1 billion).

Five workers in Japan show bird flu signs

Five people involved in cleaning a Japanese chicken farm struck by bird flu earlier this year showed signs of the disease, but all recovered.

Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare officials said none of the five workers fell seriously ill last February and all made complete recoveries, the Mainichi Daily News reported Saturday.

Roughly 60 people were involved in the clean-up at the Asano Nosan farm in Kyoto Prefecture's Tanba, where some 240,000 chickens were slaughtered to prevent the disease from spreading.

All of the workers involved took influenza medicine, wore protective clothing and surgical masks and also underwent tests at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.


Avian flu discovered among Thailand's wild bird population

The government announced today that a recent survey of wild birds in central Thailand had shown six species infected with bird flu.

The results came from a random sampling of more than a thousand migratory and indigenous birds in four central provinces where infected poultry had previously been discovered.

The head of Avian Influenza Operations Center, Dr. Charal Trinvuthipong told journalists at Government House in Bangkok that while the source of the latest infection remained unknown, it would be the subject of further close study.

The bird samples were collected in the provinces of Nakhon Sawan, Lop Buri, Chachoengsao and Saraburi.

Dr. Charal sought to allay public fears about the possible transmission of the virus from birds to humans. "It has not been concluded yet that the avian flu virus can be transferred from birds to human," he said.

The infected local species were identified as the Little Cormorant (Nok Kar nam lek), Asian Openbill(Nok Pak Hang), Scaly-breasted Munia (Spotted Munia or Nok Kra Tid Kee Moo), Red Turtle-Dove (Nok Kao Fai), Black Drongo (Sang Saew Hang Pla) and pigeon. Dr.Charal added that he would propose more extensive survey, with a random sampling of 6,000 specimens of each kind of bird.

Meanwhile, the Livestock Development Department has announced that as of December 9, 71 areas in 19 provinces have reported cases of the virus, with new outbreaks in the southern provinces of Pattani and Narathiwat.

Since the country was hit by a second round of bird-flu outbreak in July, Thailand has recorded five confirmed cases of bird flu among humans. Four of the victims died, while the last patient recovered.

Bird Flu Outbreak Reported in Indonesia

An outbreak of bird flu in eastern Indonesia has infected more than 20,000 chickens, highlighting the country’s continuing struggle against the disease, a media report said today.

Authorities in Mataram, the capital of Lombok island, are distributing some 250,000 doses of vaccine to farmers in the worst-hit area to prevent the spread, The Jakarta Post reported.

The report did not identify the strain of the disease. No human cases had occurred on the island, 670 miles east of Jakarta, the report said.

Avian flu ravaged Asia earlier this year, killing millions of birds. The H5N1 strain also jumped to humans, killing 32 people in Vietnam and Thailand.

Indonesia suffered outbreaks of the disease in several regions in February and July, but there were no reported cases of human infections.

The World Health Organization has warned that if the current avian flu virus mutates into a form that spreads easily among people it could lead to the next global flu pandemic, which could kill tens of millions of perople worldwide.


24 suspected bird flu cases found in Thailand

There were 24 suspected bird flu cases in Thailand in the second half of 2004, according to the Thailand Avian Influenza Operations Center.

Eleven of these cases were in the South, seven in the North, four in the Northeast, and two in the Central Region, the Thai News Agency reported Sunday.

According to the report, all patients were under medical supervision, while the results of laboratory tests were pending.

Since the country was hit by a second round of bird-flu outbreak in mid 2004, Thailand has recorded five confirmed cases of bird flu. Four of them died, while one of the patients recovered, the news agency quoted the Avian Influenza Operations Center as saying.

More than 1,200 locations in 57 provinces were identified as suspected epidemic areas, where a large number of fowls were culled

UK Government Prepares for Bird Flu Outbreak

The Government is making emergency plans to deal with a potential outbreak of bird flu in the UK, it was confirmed today.

Measures under consideration include providing anti-viral drugs to key health workers and emergency services, according to the Department of Health.

Schools and cinemas in affected areas could also be closed, and victims’ families quarantined.

More than 30 people died from avian influenza in Asia this year, after the disease swept through the bird population.

Humans are thought to have contracted the virus due to close proximity with infected birds, but the Government has previously said that the chance of it spreading to animals in the UK is “low”.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said today that “pandemic influenza” was one of the contingencies it was planning for.

“The overarching UK plan is currently being brought up to date and as part of this we’re considering the role of anti-virals.

“The plan will be published once this review is completed,” he added.

This week more than 200 animal welfare groups including the RSPCA, Greenpeace and the World Parrot Trust called for a permanent EU ban on the import of wild birds.

They said a ban was the only way to prevent outbreaks of the disease among Europeans and protect indigenous bird species.

Avian flu sees chicken exports plummet by 91 percent

Thailand's exports of fresh chickens and chicken products slumped by 91 percent over the first 10 months of the year as a result of the avian flu pandemic, the secretary-general of the Office of Agricultural Economics revealed yesterday.

Mr. Suthiporn Jeeraphan said that the bird flu crisis at the beginning of the year and the second outbreak in July had caused exports of frozen chickens to drop to a low of 26,375 tonnes, worth Bt1.732 billion.

This compares with 304,446 tonnes of frozen chicken exports over the first 10 months of 2003, worth Bt20.345 billion.

Mr. Suthiporn warned that failure to control the avian flu situation could lead to the permanent loss of Thailand's export market, despite the fact that negotiations securing the export of cooked chicken products had helped ease the situation.

He also noted that it would be difficult to bring on board closed farming methods in all chicken farms, as this required time and careful coordination among the agencies involved.

Aventis, Chiron to Test Bird Flu Vaccine on Humans

Aventis-Pasteur and Chiron Corp are due to start human testing of a vaccine against bird flu as early as this month, a World Health Organization official said on Saturday, to try to prevent a pandemic that could kill millions of people.

"Two firms, Aventis and Chiron have been working on a clinical small series. They have finished that and it is being tested," Klaus Stohr, the head of the WHO's global influenza program, told Reuters by telephone.

"At the beginning of next year or in December it will go into clinical tests on humans."

The H5N1 strain of bird flu -- an endemic in a number of Asian countries, which health officials fear could eventually mutate into a lethal new virus that will spread rapidly among humans -- has been sounding alarms with health officials.

A World Health Organization expert said last month that the H5N1 virus is most likely to cause the next human flu pandemic. Experts fear a repetition of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic thought to have killed more than 20 million people. International health officials have warned for years that a flu pandemic is overdue because the last one, which killed between one million and four million, occurred back in 1968.

The WHO has said that vaccines and antiviral drugs could then be in short supply in the first months.

On Wednesday, the WHO said it was stepping up efforts to ensure governments around the globe are ready to fight the killer flu pandemic, which the U.N. agency fears may be on its way.

While vaccines would not stop a pandemic the tests were a step in the right direction, Stohr said.

"The spread of a pandemic in principle cannot be stopped but its impact can be reduced," Stohr said.

He said the WHO's potential death toll of two to seven million deaths was a "best-case scenario," adding that hundreds of millions of people would fall ill from a pandemic.

An Aventis spokesman was not immediately available for comment.


Chinese on high alert as experts predict bird flu disaster

By Oliver August

BEIJING has drawn up a far-reaching plan to combat a bird flu epidemic that could kill tens of millions of people, The Times has learnt.

The plan, which has not been published, involves curtailing travel to prevent the virus being carried around the country and envisages emergency measures to ensure supplies of food, energy and other essential services.

Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave warning of an unprecedented bird flu epidemic. “We are talking at least 2 to 7 million, maybe more — 20 million or 50 million, or in the worst case 100 million people,” Shigeru Omi, WHO’s regional director for Asia, said. A viral jump from fowl to human beings is thought imminent.

“China is taking the threat of a pandemic very seriously,” said Julie Hall, a WHO adviser in Beijing, who has seen the broad outlines of the country’s contingency plan.

“We attach great importance to fighting bird flu. We haven’t closed our eyes for a single day,” a spokeswoman for the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, a central government body, said.

Qi Lei scares the Chinese Government more than any foreign enemy — and he does not even know it. The skinny 38-year-old coalman cycles into central Beijing every morning from his shed in the countryside to deliver coal bricks stacked on the back of his rusting tricycle. “I ride around with no fixed destination, just wherever people need coal to heat their homes,” he said.

What really frightens Beijing is what else Mr Qi might bring with him from the farm villages of Hebei province, a prime breeding ground for the bird flu virus. Unregulated traffic from rural to urban areas as practised by Mr Qi is the most likely transmission route, as it was with the spread of the Sars virus, and one of the first things the Government would want to do is curtail movement from rural to urban areas.

Private delivery men such as Mr Qi would be prevented from entering Beijing, even if that means residents freezing during the winter months.

“I won’t be able to take care of them and they will have to survive on their own,” he said. Maps have apparently been drawn up with separate marks pencilled in for vehicle and pedestrian roadblocks.

Initial measures would include the stockpiling of vaccines and the mobilisation of trained personnel in affected areas. But given China’s size, experts expect that vaccines — as far as they even exist — will run out quickly.

When regional outbreaks start to form a pandemic, more drastic action will be needed.

Essential services such as burials would be carried out by special government squads, possibly involving the army. “If 10,000 people died in one day, I wouldn’t know what to do,” Peng Zong, a director of a private undertakers, said.

Sites for mass graves have been identified and quietly cordoned off to avoid the spread of other diseases, one official said.

Another big concern is the supply of food, and Beijing has drawn up lists of emergency food depots. Citizens waiting out the pandemic in their homes would be informed by vehicle-mounted loudspeakers how to access food supplies. It is assumed that access to media would be curtailed either for lack of electricity or because of the closure of all public buildings, including the state television studios. During the Sars crisis last year, Beijing was criticised for acting belatedly and sloppily, and the WHO has repeatedly pressed China and other Asian countries to step up their anti-disease campaigns.

“The level of transmission at the moment is unprecedented historically,” Dr Omi said. “History has told us that on average every 30 years, at least, a pandemic will occur. The next one is due — some would say it is overdue.”

The speed of the spread of bird flu virus and its adaptation to a form that can be carried by pigs and cats had shown that conditions were ripe for a devastating pandemic.

“It will come,” he said. “Before it would have taken a year to spread around the world but, thanks to globalisation, it will take just weeks.”

# Avian influenza, better known as bird flu, is a highly contagious viral disease that was first identified more than 100 years ago. It affects turkeys, ducks, quail, chickens and other birds

# There are about 20 strains of bird flu but the recent outbreaks in Asia have been caused mainly by a highly contagious strain known as H5N1

# The three flu pandemics of the 20th century — the 1918-19 Spanish flu, 1957-58 Asian flu and 1968-69 Hong Kong flu — started when genetic material from bird flu passed into human flu, making a far more dangerous virus

# The more often humans come into contact with infected poultry, the more likely it is that H5N1 will join with human flu and mutate into a more virulent disease

# Recent bird flu outbreaks have been resistant to the oldest and cheapest flu drugs, rimantadine and amantadine. Newer drugs, zanamivir and oseltamivir, are effective but expensive. Vaccines are difficult to develop because bird flu viruses mutate frequently

# According to the World Health Organisation, bird flu has killed 23 people this year. Eight cases were in Thailand and 15 in Vietnam

# Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) is confused with bird flu as both are respiratory diseases that have caused epidemics in Asia. Sars is caused by a previously unknown type of coronavirus, of the common cold virus family.


Vaccine Won't Prevent Flu Pandemic.

Countries should plan measures other than vaccinations to deal with a possible flu pandemic, according to WHO Western Pacific regional director Shigeru Omi. Bird flu is the mostly likely candidate to combine with a human virus, say experts, creating a new strain that could trigger a worldwide pandemic and kill an estimated 2-7 million people.

Drug companies will not be able to make enough vaccine to prevent the next global flu pandemic, which health officials fear may be triggered by a viral strain originating in birds, a top World Health Organization official said Monday.
Countries should plan measures other than vaccinations to deal with a possible pandemic, said WHO Western Pacific regional director Shigeru Omi.

"No matter how much they manufacture, expand production, I don't think the vaccines available will be meeting all the requirement," Omi told reporters after a speech in Hong Kong.

WHO experts believe bird flu is the mostly likely candidate to combine with a human virus, creating a new strain that could trigger a worldwide pandemic and kill an estimated 2 million to 7 million people.

Omi called that a "most conservative" estimate.

Another problem is that a vaccine would not be mass produced until it is tailored to the specific flu strain causing the pandemic after it breaks out -- meaning a delay of five or six months before the vaccines becomes available -- Omi said.

"Vaccine is important, but if somebody thinks that a vaccine is a panacea ... that is wrong," he said.

Governments should prepare vaccine-less contingency response plans, including quarantine measures and stocking up on antiviral drugs, Omi said.

Influenza pandemics historically occur every two or three decades when a flu strain's genetic changes dramatically, making it resistant to whatever immunities people have developed from previous outbreaks.

Still, Omi said vaccines are somewhat useful in controlling a possible bird flu pandemic by preventing infected people from developing a full-blown case of the deadly illness.

Separately, Omi also said ducks are playing a larger role than chickens in spreading bird flu because ducks are more resilient to the disease.

He said officials suspect the duck theory may explain recent human cases that emerged in areas where chicken infections didn't occur.

Bird flu this year has killed 32 people in Thailand and Vietnam, and millions of chickens across Asia.

Omi said severe acute respiratory syndrome may return to Hong Kong because the virus still exists in animals and could spread to humans, but a large outbreak is unlikely because the territory is now better prepared to combat infectious diseases.

SARS sickened 1,755 people and killed 299 in Hong Kong last year


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