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News about the bird flu (avian influenza) in April 2005


Vietnam expert warns bird flu may break out again

There was likely to be another full-blown outbreak of bird flu this year in Vietnam, where 36 people have died from the disease since late 2003, a health expert warned in state media Thursday.

The deadly H5N1 virus could be dormant and resurface as the weather warmed, Central Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology deputy director Pham Ngoc Dinh told the official English-language daily, Vietnam News.

A Cambodian woman who died in a hospital in Vietnam last week was found to have had bird flu but the last Vietnamese death was reported more than a month ago.

The virus "is still in faeces, ash and other waste, not to mention the poultry carrying the disease," Dinh said.

"We predict that by the end of the year, the epidemic might break out again if we do not have positive solutions such as vaccines for poultry, as well as disinfecting the environment when the weather is warmer," he said.

It might take one or two more years to eradicate the disease, Dinh said, adding, "if we cannot extinguish the epidemic fully, the virus might change its genetic structure and cause a bigger epidemic."

The newspaper also reported that about 1.5 million waterfowl will be destroyed in the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam after bird there tested positive to the flu virus.

Between 70 and 80 percent of the ducks in the delta have been found to be affected, according to the agriculture ministry.

A national committee for the prevention of bird flu has banned the incubation of waterfowl and quail until next February and has asked the government to pay 15,000 dong (about one dollar) per duck and 25,000 dong per breeding duck destroyed or found infected with flu.

So far 52 people have died of bird flu in the region, including 12 in Thailand and four in Cambodia.

Health experts have warned the H5N1 virus could lead to a pandemic if it mutates into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans.

Bird flu vaccine lab to be set up in Thailand

The first hygienic virus-free laboratory for developing bird flu vaccine for fowls will be built in Thailand within several months, local press reported Friday.

In order to develop a vaccine prototype for fowls, a completed hygienic laboratory is needed to ensure accurate results, Yukol Limlamthong, director-general of the Livestock Development Department was quoted by Bangkok Post newspaper as saying.

Located in Phitsanulok, the laboratory will be the first of itskind in the kingdom.

Currently, the researchers are extracting highly virulent components from the virus' genes to obtain less harmful genes thatwould be developed as the initial prototype of the vaccines.

Yukol said there was no policy to apply those vaccines to animals raised in farms, but they will be needed to contain the spread of the virus in case of a major outbreak.

Livestock experts have warned against the use of vaccines for fear that it could result in the virus mutating into a more virulent strain.

As part of the department's three-year strategic plan to combatbird flu, some 1,000 new officials will be recruited to guard against a possible outbreak.

About 2,200 officials have already be scattered around the country to keep the virus under watch.

HCMC to import mass quantities of bird flu vaccines

Ho Chi Minh City is to import and test 600,000 doses of bird flu vaccine from a US company on its poultry farms, said a source from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development April 28.

The livestock vaccine called Trovax AI - manufactured by US animal health giant Merial - has been accepted for limited use within HCMC by authorized veterinary or health departments, according to MARD.

At the same time, MARD has recently authorized Vietnam Breeding Company and Japfa Comfeed Company to import 2 million more doses of another vaccine for testing on other farms, again under strict limitations, the ministry said.

On a related note, Vietnam has recorded no new human cases of H5N1 bird flu virus during the period from April 16 – 28, according to Vietnam’s Animal Health Department.

A total of 44 patients in 18 cities and provinces have contracted bird flu in Vietnam since the beginning of the second outbreak on December 16, 2004.

Sixteen have succumbed to the disease and two others are under treatment at the National Institute for Clinical Research of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi and Uong Bi Hospital in the northern province Quang Ninh.

N. Korea Bird Flu Under Control: UN Agency

A U.N. agency said that a bird flu outbreak in North Korea is under control, but its veterinary consultant warned against declaring the isolated country free from the disease.

``It is too early to say that the disease has been eradicated,’’ Voice of America (VOA) said Thursday, quoting Les Sims, a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization consultant.``According to current guidelines, the country still cannot be regarded as being free from the disease... I mean, it takes time to be sure of that."

Sims, who was in Pyongyang 10 days ago to help North Korea combat the outbreak of avian influenza, said he cannot explain why the bird flu broke out, noting that the North Korean farms were well run.

Earlier this month, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said that respiratory distress syndrome was observed among chickens in a poultry farm in Pyongyang due to a buildup of poisonous fumes caused by a power failure in February, and that some began to die the next day.

Sims said the impoverished communist country needs to improve its ability to monitor for poultry diseases, which led Pyongyang authorities to cull approximately 218,000 chickens and vaccinate 1.1 million poultry in unaffected areas.

``There are weaknesses still in the surveillance system because of the resource limitations that North Korea has,’’ Sims said in a report carried by VOA. ``The actual overall infrastructure for doing surveillance for these viruses across the whole country needs to be strengthened considerably.’’

The bird flu, which hit the North in February, turned out to be the H7 variety, which experts say poses no danger of human infection.

The H7 strain is different from the virulent H5N1 strain of avian virus, which killed at least 51 people in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Vietnam bird flu puzzle has many missing pieces

The Hanoi Hilton's club sandwich no longer features chicken.

The chief bird flu fighter in the northern Thai Binh province, where a cluster of human cases has caused concern, is trying to stop chickens from crossing the road to reach -- and infect -- the other side.

A survivor in the province swears never again to eat fowl.

But a longtime chicken seller can't understand what the fuss is all about and the elder sister of another survivor ate chicken in Hanoi while her brother struggled for life on a respirator.

There are as many bird flu voices in Vietnam at the moment as the cackling and crowing of the millions of fowl -- chickens, ducks, geese, quail -- that dot the land and rice paddy fields.

After 15 deaths in Vietnam since December 2004 out of 41 patients stricken in that period by the H5N1 bird flu virus, chicken is mainly off the menu and under the microscope.

Since the disease first hit Asia in late 2003, killing since then a total of 36 Vietnamese, the communist nation has reported a total of 68 human infections among a population of 82 million.

In the same time, 12 Thais and four Cambodians have also died of the virus including a 20-year-old Cambodian woman who was a rushed to a hospital in Vietnam last week.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the virus could mutate into a form that could pass easily between humans and cause a worldwide pandemic in which millions could die.


Doctor Pham Van Diu, director of the Centre of Preventive Medicine in Thai Binh, 110 km (68 miles) south-east of Hanoi and the site of three bird flu "cluster" outbreaks this year, is in the front line of the battle.

Diu, who has worked in the Red River Delta province since 1984, seeing it safely through such scourges as bubonic plague, cholera, polio and dengue fever, admits he is perplexed.

"It is a big jigsaw puzzle and there is not just one piece missing but many pieces missing," he says.

Why do people who slaughter chickens, and would seem most at risk, seem immune? Why does the flu seem to strike mainly within families? Why have there been no foreigners among the stricken?

"When it first appeared we thought it was SARS," he said. "But it didn't follow rules of past diseases like many victims, more dead, as well as less time and space between outbreaks."

He says strict measures to control movement of poultry, isolation of cases and public awareness allowing early diagnosis have helped Vietnam control the spread for the moment.

Diu said last year 1.5 million birds were slaughtered in a cull of the sick. In the first three months of this year, only 15,000 have been slaughtered.

Peter Horby, a medical epidemiologist with the WHO in Hanoi, gives Vietnamese authorities high marks for most measures they have taken.

But he warns: "We need to resolve the mystery of bird flu, not just contain it and learn to live with it."

He said the number of outbreaks dotted around Vietnam shows bird flu is still "entrenched" in various parts of the country.

Horby fears the day when 20 people come down with bird flu on the same day and in several different locations.

"But we are not there yet," he says.


Ha, a 50 year-old seller of live chickens in a Thai Binh city market, scoffs at a bird flu threat.

"If there is a threat, why haven't any people like me been sick," she asks, thrusting her face into the wire mesh of a cage containing 20 live roosters.

Like other people in the market, Ha only gave her first name saying she had sold chicken for 15 years, carrying on a livelihood started by her parents who also had never been ill.

"If you don't eat sick chicken and if you cook the chicken well, there is nothing to fear," she says.

At another stall, Huyen, who sells slaughtered chickens, says her daily sales this year are less than half the 50 she used to sell.

"If you only sell healthy chicken, you never die," she says, while admitting that she now buys her birds also from other provinces, rather than just Thai Binh.

But Yen, an 80-year-old woman who sells joss sticks and other non-food items, disagrees.

Wagging a stern finger she warns: "If you eat chicken, you die. Here. Now."


Nguyen Thi Ngoan, 14, is back at school this month, a survivor, like her 21-year-old brother and 81-year-old grand father, of bird flu.

The family lives in Thai Binh province's Ho Doi 2 hamlet, about an hour's drive from the provincial capital.

She spent nearly three weeks in hospital, catching the flu several days after her brother was stricken in January. The pair, along with their grandfather, had eaten chicken together.

The grandfather was diagnosed with the flu but never showed its outward symptoms of fever and a shivery cold.

"I will never eat chicken again," Ngoan says. "Once near death is enough. I also don't like some mean schoolmates calling me bird flu girl."

Just last week her 21-year-old brother came off a respirator and is on the way to a full recovery.

"He never believed he had bird flu," says elder sister Nhung who cared for him while he was in hospital in Hanoi.

"The day he fell ill he got wet and thought it was just a bad cold."

Nhung admits that while looking after him in Hanoi she ate chicken but she would never eat it again in her own province.

"When our brother comes home we will have feast -- my mother'll kill a cow, not chicken," says the younger sister Ngoan

Bird-flu death rate dropping in Vietnam

More than a year after avian influenza emerged in East Asia, killing more than two-thirds of the people with confirmed cases, Vietnamese doctors are reporting that the mortality rate in their country has dropped substantially.

But while this is good news for survivors, it could mean the outbreak of bird flu in Southeast Asia is taking an ominous turn. If a disease quickly kills almost everyone it infects, it has little chance of spreading very far, according to international health experts.

The less lethal bird flu becomes, they say, the more likely it is to develop into the global pandemic they fear, potentially killing tens of millions of people.

"The virus could be adapting to humans," said Peter Horby, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital. "There's a number of indications it could be moving toward a more dangerous virus."

The mortality rate for bird flu in Vietnam this year is about 35 percent, almost exactly half that of last year, according to Health Ministry statistics. The mortality rate of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, by comparison, was less than 5 percent, but the outbreak killed an estimated 40 million people worldwide.

Officials said the drop in the bird-flu mortality rate was more marked in northern Vietnam than in the south. While the virus in southern Vietnam is still killing at the same pace as last year, the rate in the area around Hanoi and elsewhere in the north has dropped from that level to as low as 20 percent.

Vietnamese health experts said their suspicion that the disease is shifting is further supported by preliminary research showing a genetic change in the virus in the north resulting in the production of a protein with one less amino acid than in the south.

Health researchers believe that nearly all the 52 people known to have died of bird flu in Southeast Asia caught the virus from infected poultry. But with more clusters of cases among families reported in Vietnam this year, experts say they are growing increasingly suspicious that the disease has begun passing from one human to another.

Also worrying is the discovery of at least five cases in which people tested positive for bird flu but showed no symptoms. This could make it more difficult to contain an epidemic because people could transmit the disease without anyone realizing it.

Last year, U.S. researchers reported that ducks in Southeast Asia had begun carrying the bird-flu virus without showing symptoms. Now, scientists in Vietnam have found numerous asymptomatic cases in the country's vast chicken population, according to Nguyen Tran Hien, director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology.

"It seems that the virus may adapt in humans and in poultry a little bit. Therefore, the symptoms are not as severe as before," Hien said. "Also, the transmission may be faster and easier."

Moreover, the existing virus strain is not the only threat. Each human case also presents a chance for the bird-flu virus to swap genetic material with an ordinary flu bug — if the person becomes infected with both strains at the same time — potentially creating a new hybrid that is highly lethal and even easier to catch.

"We are concerned that if the virus is changing, maybe a new virus is coming in the future," Hien said.

Vietnamese and international health officials say they are confident that the mortality rate has dropped but are not sure by how much.

Better screening and wider public awareness of bird flu could mean health workers are catching and recovering from milder cases that would have gone unreported a year ago.

WHO officials have complained, however, that Vietnam is reluctant to provide detailed information about human cases. Senior Health Ministry officials respond that reports are provided in accord with national regulations.

The question now is whether bird flu in Vietnam has begun passing among humans.

In Vietnam, bird flu is taking an economic toll

To know the effect of avian influenza here, order a steaming bowl of "pho ga," or chicken noodle soup — if you can find one.

Since last year, pho ga has virtually disappeared in this soup-obsessed city, which has more noodle shops than Seattle has espresso bars.

Pho 2000 — perhaps the nation's most famous soup cafe owing to a visit by former President Clinton five years ago — has literally crossed the dish off its menu. Once commonplace eateries that specialize in chicken soup have closed by the dozen.

"No one will buy chicken," said the manager of Pho 24, a trendy downtown soup restaurant. "Try some beef."

After 18 months of bird-flu outbreaks, the economic effect of the epidemic can be seen just about everywhere in Vietnam, from empty soup bowls in the cities to the closure of poultry farms in the hinterlands of the Mekong Delta.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that Southeast Asia as a whole has suffered about $10 billion in economic losses because of bird flu. Major poultry exporters hit by the outbreaks, particularly in Thailand, have suffered the greatest financial losses.

A way of life

But in Vietnam, poultry is not just an industry, it is a way of life.

About 90 percent of the nation's more than 200 million farm birds live in the back yards of subsistence rice growers, laborers and even urban professionals, according to an analysis by the Vietnamese agricultural ministry. Before the flu outbreaks, the vast majority of Vietnamese households, including nearly 70 percent of the poorest people, sold poultry to supplement their income, according to a World Bank study. Many more sold eggs.

Now, the bird-flu epidemic has forced the government to remove chickens and ducks from large swaths of land. Live poultry has been banned in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, imports have been curtailed and more than 40 million birds have died or been culled by government order.

In an epidemic spread by migrating birds, there is no one place that can be identified as its epicenter. The virus has winged its way across Southeast Asia.

The hamlet of Hoi Xuan, about 35 miles southwest of Ho Chi Minh City down bumpy Highway 1, is as good a place to start as any. It is at the heart of Long An province, in the nation's rice bowl. Of the 40 million birds that have died in Vietnam because of bird flu, nearly 8 million have been from this province. About 85 percent of its flocks were destroyed last year by the disease known here as "cum ga," or chicken flu.

Massive culling

The rice paddies of Hoi Xuan are about 1,000 miles from urban Hong Kong, where bird flu first appeared in 1997. The government there killed every duck and chicken in the territory, more than 1.5 million. The outbreak was contained, but the virus reappeared in 2001 and has surfaced in parts of Southeast Asia every year since.

Culling birds has been the main strategy for preventing the virus from spreading to people. According to the World Health Organization, there have been 108 officially confirmed human cases, but each one increases the chances of the virus mutating into an easily transmissible form. With little or no immunity to the disease, humans are easy victims.

Since the beginning of 2004, there have been 51 confirmed deaths related to bird flu in the region, according to the WHO.

Health officials suspect that many fatalities are not being reported because disease surveillance in some countries is primitive. Myanmar, for example, has reported no bird flu this year, even though it borders hard-hit Thailand. Cambodia, which lies between Vietnam and Thailand, has reported only three deaths.

Most of the deaths, 36, and confirmed infections, 68, have been reported in Vietnam, which may reflect the country's more developed health-reporting system.

Among waterfowl, the virus, formally known as avian influenza H5N1, is relatively innocuous, often causing few noticeable symptoms. For chickens, however, it is a stunning killer.

A harrowing experience

Ho Van Nghia recalled feeding his chickens one day and returning a few minutes later to see the birds falling down in front of him.

"The family was very frightened," said the 41-year-old chicken farmer in Hoi Xuan.

The government ordered all of the surviving chickens burned.

Ho made a makeshift pyre. The stench was overwhelming, so he spent six hours suffocating the birds by stuffing them into plastic bags, then threw the bags into a hole. He lost 1,000 chickens.

Ho took out loans and started over with 2,500 more birds. In January — exactly one year after the first outbreak — bird flu hit again. All of his birds died or were culled.

The government paid him the standard 32 cents per culled bird, a small fraction of their value. He figures he has lost more than $5,000 from bird flu — more than 10 times the average annual income.

He now raises 70 pigs. But pigs are less profitable due to volatile pork prices and the time and expense needed to raise them to maturity. So he plans to raise chickens again someday.

For as long as people can remember, a narrow three-block stretch of Tran Chanh Chieu Street has been Ho Chi Minh City's bustling poultry market.

It's near the center of town, and in its heyday was a riot of chickens, ducks and geese bound at the feet. Retailers bought tons of live poultry a day, joined by intrepid bargain hunters looking for a choice dinner.

"The market operated around the clock, 24 hours," said Nguyen Thi Le, a live-chicken seller in Ho Chi Minh City who no longer has chickens to sell.

Chain reaction

Since the government banned live birds from Ho Chi Minh City in February, only a few lonely vegetable sellers in conical straw hats spread their blankets on the street, still encrusted with bird debris.

"I'm not sure if the ban was such a good idea," Nguyen said as she squatted forlornly on the sidewalk.

Now she sells fish, reluctantly.

The loss of poultry from Ho Chi Minh City has sparked a chain reaction.

Nguyen said the market had traditionally supported dozens of bird sellers from the city's outskirts and the Mekong Delta. Most of those sellers have retreated to their home farms, unable to find new jobs.

Shops that depended on foot traffic from the market have closed. Heavy metal gates seal empty storefronts.

Humble soup vendors still squat by steaming charcoal-heated pots at their sidewalk kitchens throughout Ho Chi Minh City, but now they stir vegetables, dried shrimp or pork into the aromatic broth.

In Ho Chi Minh City, the Chao Vit Thanh Da area along the Saigon River specialized in duck restaurants and stores selling ducks. Many have recently disappeared.

Even outside of Ho Chi Minh City, where live markets are still allowed, birds are harder to buy these days.

In the sprawling Ha Tien central market near the Cambodian border, a once-teeming poultry market with dozens of stalls has been reduced to about 20 lethargic ducks and chickens.

"These ducks look very healthy," said their owner, Danh Thi Hong, as she sat in a nearby hammock, dodging passing hogs.

A steady stream of customers ignored the animals.

The chicken situation has given a boost to some segments of the economy. "People now prefer eating fish," explained one fishmonger in Long An province. "My business is up."

A few nearby meat sellers agreed as they waved flies off fatty cuts of beef and pork: Business was brisk.

But many people have found an easy solution to the chicken problem by simply ignoring the government's restrictions.

A kind of fowl underground has emerged. Across rivers and dirt trails, chickens are smuggled from Cambodia and China.

The internal dragnet to keep birds out of Ho Chi Minh City is enforced by inspection posts at main roads. At the sole checkpoint from the Mekong Delta, bored inspectors sat and smoked beside the tiny plywood and corrugated-metal booth next to a roadside soda stand.

"Whenever a truck or car passes here with live animals, they all have a permission paper. It means that the animals' blood has been tested," said Pham Van Tung, the government veterinary inspector at the checkpoint.

But only six or seven trucks stop each day, fewer than 2,000 birds in all. Only a few suspect birds have been detected this year, smuggled by motorcycle, Pham said.

While Ho Chi Minh City's bird markets have been emptied, a quick jaunt off the main streets revealed many chickens still hiding in the city, waiting to be eaten or sold. Millions of Vietnamese birds are hidden in plain sight where they have always been — in the back yards of people who keep a few chickens or ducks to feed their families.

A few restaurant owners, confident in the government's inability to catch them, brazenly display birds in their store windows to entice those desperate for a taste.

KFC steps in

The government has been encouraging consumers to buy butchered chicken — certified by the government as flu-free — from modern supermarkets. It's not a convenient solution for most people in rural areas, since supermarkets are still relatively rare, as are refrigerators to store butchered meat.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Kentucky Fried Chicken (now known as KFC) has been buying poultry from certified farms and has doubled its sales since last year, said John Pain, the company's Asia regional manager based in Singapore.

When bird flu hit early last year, the Vietnamese outlets of the American fast-food chain briefly suffered the indignity of serving fish instead of chicken.

Now, they're making a comeback.

Malaysian cleric suggests isolating AIDS, bird flu patients

People suffering from AIDS, avian influenza and other infectious diseases should live on remote islands where they would be isolated from the public and would receive proper treatment, a prominent Malaysian cleric said Friday.

Harussani Zakaria, a religious leader in the northern Perak state and the spokesman for the Malaysian Council of Muftis, said he made the suggestion because diseases like AIDS or contagious ailments like bird flu could “spread out of control” in densely populated areas.

Harussani’s comments, originally made to the local media on Thursday, were criticized by the Malaysian AIDS Council and others because the reports gave the impression that he wanted patients to be cast away on inaccessible islands.

In an interview Friday to The Associated Press, Harussani said he had been misquoted.

“I am not talking about isolating sick people and leaving them to die, no, we treat them and we help them live,” he told the AP. “This is a method of prevention, preventing others from getting sick.”

“Just like before, when we isolated people with tuberculosis, people with smallpox and people with leprosy onto islands, I think it should be done to safeguard the public from further infections,” he added.

He pointed out that Malaysia even now isolates leprosy patients, who live in a relatively remote community about 35 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur where they grow their own vegetables and receive medication.

“I don’t think isolating AIDS patients is a long-term thing, because sooner or later we will have a cure for them,” he said. “In Islam, we believe that if God has sent us an ailment He has also sent us a cure. We just have to find it.”

According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry, about 75 percent of the country’s 60,000 reported HIV cases are drug users who contracted the disease from shared needles. Harussani said isolation could control this.

“In a situation like ours, we have to do something like this,” he maintained.

Fourth Cambodian dies of avian flu

A 20-year-old woman who died Tuesday in a Vietnamese hospital has been confirmed as Cambodia's fourth victim of H5N1 avian influenza, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today.

Chal Bo Pha had suffered high fever and heavy coughing for a week before leaving her home in Kampot Province to go to a hospital across the border in Tien Giang, Vietnam, AFP reported. She died there within hours.

Tests at the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City confirmed that the woman died of H5N1, the hospital director, Nguyen Van Dom, told AFP. Cambodian and World Health Organization (WHO) officials quoted in the story had not yet been notified that the case was confirmed.

The case brings the unofficial H5N1 case count to 90 cases, including 53 deaths, since January 2004.

It also indicates that Cambodia may continue to see cases, Dr. Peter Horby, WHO epidemiologist in Hanoi, told AFP.

"If the results are confirmed, it does demonstrate that in that part of Cambodia the situation is not so different from Vietnam for avian influenza and we'll continue to see human cases," Horby said.

The woman lived in an area where many poultry had died of an unknown illness, relatives reportedly told the doctor quoted by AFP. She had eaten chicken before falling ill.

Health officials in Cambodia are continuing education efforts, particularly in Kampot Province, where all four known H5N1 victims lived.

Megge Miller, a WHO official in Cambodia, told AFP that officials in two areas of Kampot are teaching health center staff and local health volunteers how to identify avian flu. She said workers are being instructed to notify the provincial health department if they see someone who has a fever, cough, and difficult breathing after having contact with poultry that recently died.


Seoul to Give Anti-Bird Flu Kits to North Korea

South Korea will deliver anti-bird flu kits to North Korea through a West Sea route Saturday, the Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

The ministry plans to send North Korea two quarantine vehicles and aid goods, including 20 high pressure sterilizers, 20,000 portable diagnosis kits and 18,000 kilograms of acid detergents, worth 720 million won ($710,000).

"Three Red Cross officials and one technician will get on the ship to explain to their counterparts in the North how to use the equipment, " Kim Chun-sig, chief of the ministry’s Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Bureau, told reporters.

The ship will depart from South Korea’s Inchon Port for Nampo Port in North Korea’s South Pyongan Province at 11 a.m., he said.

South Korea has earmarked 2.5 billion won to help North Korea contain the avian influenza. For further cooperative measures, the two Koreas will hold a working-level meeting in Kaesong, a border city above the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

It would be the first government-to-government meeting between the two Koreas since July. The last official inter-Korean contact was a working-level meeting at Kaesong on July 5 to discuss military cooperation.

Since then, Pyongyang has halted talks, angry at the South for airlifting about 460 North Korean defectors to Seoul, the single largest number in history, and preventing civic group members from attending an anniversary commemorating the death of the North’s founding father Kim Il-sung.

North Korea believes the virus is of the H7 strain, not the more severe H5N1 virus that has claimed 50 lives in Southeast Asia since late 2003.

No cases of human infection have been reported in the North. However, the virus has forced North Korea to cull about 210,000 chickens at three farms in Pyongyang since it broke out last month.

North Korea’s poultry industry is a crucial source of protein for its impoverished population.

Low-risk flu strain found in Italian turkeys-EU

Italy has detected a low-risk strain of bird flu in turkeys in one of its northern regions but the outbreak does not pose a threat to public health, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

"A low pathogenic form of avian influenza was notified to the European Commisson on April 18 concerning 10 turkey flocks in the province of Brescia," a Commission official told Reuters.

"These findings are not associated with any concern for public health," he said, noting that the strain was H5N2. It was not immediately clear how many birds were affected.

Italian authorities were now expected to carry out vaccinations in the area in question, the official said.

Italy's Health Ministry said it would also destroy some 180,000 turkeys as a precaution.

"Current international regulations do not even require us to notify anyone or to act on these low-risk viruses, but we do it anyway to be correct and to prevent the virus becoming high-risk with time," Ugo Santucci, head of the ministry's animal health department, told Reuters.

Earlier on Wednesday Russia's Agriculture Ministry said it had suspended imports of poultry and poultry product from Italy to prevent the spread of bird flu. The Russian ban also applies to poultry meat products subjected to thermal treatment.

"We have not been notified by Russia yet. We heard this from reports," said Santucci.

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. All birds are thought to be susceptible to infection.

Italy was the country where the disease was first identified, more than 100 years ago. It now occurs worldwide.

Govt announces Bt2 billion for bird flu vaccine factory

The Thai government today edged closer to introducing a vaccine against the avian flu virus in humans by pledging Bt2 billion for a production and development plant, promising that Thailand would have a vaccine for use within the next 3-5 years.

Although the introduction of a vaccine in chickens has proved highly controversial, the government has always entertained vaccines for humans as one possible option to prevent the pandemic from spreading, and the Department of Medical Sciences is currently working with the National Science and Technology Development Agency on a vaccine using the principle of reverse genetics to weaken the virus.

Today Dr. Thawat Suntrajarn, the Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, said that international pharmaceutical countries had failed to carry out research into vaccines for a disease which mainly threatened developing nations, and that Thailand would have to go it alone to produce a vaccine for domestic use.

He also dismissed suggestions that Thailand might work to develop the vaccine in conjunction with other countries in the region, noting that by the time a cooperative deal was signed, it would probably be too late.

The Bt2 billion production plant which Thailand hopes to construct, he said, would initially focus on production for domestic use, but would eventually expand its operations to include production for export.

“We expect to have a vaccine for use in humans within the next three years, or at very latest five years”, Dr. Thawat said. 

“This is because it takes time to undertake strict testing procedures, both in laboratory animals and in small and large groups of people”.

He also revealed that the Ministry of Public Health had recently signed a deal with a large French pharmaceutical company to produce a vaccine against the human influenza virus for Thailand, in anticipation of a widely feared global flu pandemic. 

Although the vaccine will be produced in France, it will be packaged by the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) in Thailand. 

The vaccine is expected to be in use by September this year.

Vietnam Yet to Implement All Bird Flu Measures, Government Says.

Vietnam is yet to implement all regulations to halt the spread of bird flu, such as rules on the slaughter and disposal of infected poultry and the movement of poultry through borders, the government said.

Since December, avian influenza has spread to 36 of Vietnam's 64 provinces and major cities and led to the death or culling of more than 1.8 million poultry, according to figures from the National Steering Committee on Prevention of Bird Flu. Bird flu has killed at least 36 Vietnamese people since late 2003, the highest death toll of any country.

The longer the H5N1 bird-flu virus circulates, the greater is the risk of a pandemic virus emerging through genetic changes, according to the World Health Organization. Still, Vietnam's government conceded that comprehension of this danger hasn't filtered down throughout the nation of 82 million people, about three-quarters of whom live in rural areas.

``The awareness of people and administration at all levels of the danger of the disease is not yet complete,'' the bird-flu committee said in a report dated yesterday and distributed at a Hanoi meeting. ``The implementation of our laws on animal health is not yet serious, especially on reporting about the epidemic, trading, transportation, and the slaughter of poultry.''

Vietnam's government has carried out special measures such as strengthening the control of poultry transportation both locally and across borders and controlling the slaughter of poultry, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said in February.


Still, the checking of poultry at international borders is inconsistent, as is the dissemination of bird flu-related information, the committee's report said.

``Many farmers do not know how to prevent bird flu,'' the report said. ``Dead poultry are not properly disposed of and the meat of sick poultry is still eaten.''

While Ho Chi Minh City, the nation's largest city, has banned the raising of poultry, chickens can still be found moving around freely in central-city areas with police stations nearby.

Safety measures haven't been applied in many households which raise small numbers of poultry, the government report said.

``The slaughter of poultry is still sloppy and not yet concentrated under the control of the veterinary office,'' the committee said.

Some local administrations are providing insufficient guidance, it said.

Fight's Fate

``They do take it seriously at the top levels,'' said Anton Rychener, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's representative in Vietnam. ``But at local levels, the fate of the fight against bird flu is not up to the government at top levels, it's up to the chairman of the local people's committee.''

Financial support provided to farmers required to kill poultry is still too low, the report said.

``Our policy is when we have a problem like this disease, then both the government and the people join efforts and share the burden,'' Agriculture Minister Phat told journalists in February. ``So we do not say that we reimburse the loss. We are providing support to farmers, and our financial capacity is limited. We are trying our best.''

Avian influenza has cost the Vietnamese economy about 3.5 trillion dong ($221 million), or about 0.5 percent of the country's annual gross domestic product, the committee estimated. The government now estimates it may not be able to contain bird flu until 2007 and may not be able to eradicate it until 2010.

``The key to making progress in enforcement of anything related to bird flu is the issue of compensation or support for the farmers,'' said Rychener of the Food and Agriculture Organization. ``Unless that's tackled, you're not going to enlist the full cooperation of the farmers.''

Asian cockfighting prime avian flu gateway

The centuries-old Asian love of cockfighting has become a prime, potentially lethal, gateway for the spread of avian flu, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Cockfighting is suspected of spreading the deadly bird flu virus from poultry to humans through contact with blood, feces and droplets of fluid.

"There will be opportunities for the virus to take advantage of these practices," said Klaus Stohr, director of the World Health Organization's global influenza program. "They didn't cause trouble before, but now they do."

According to WHO and local reports, infected roosters may have caused at least eight human cases of avian influenza in Thailand and Vietnam since early 2004.

In September, the virus killed an 18-year-old Thai man who raised fighting cocks outside Bangkok. Thai health officials said he would suck mucus and blood from the beaks of his injured roosters and sometimes slept with his birds. Earlier last year, a 13-year-old boy who frequented cockfights in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City and often held the birds before the bouts also succumbed to the disease.

WHO reports 80 cases of avian flu since Jan. 28 in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, including 50 deaths.

Vietnamese Woman Tests Positive for Bird Flu, HIV

Health officials in Vietnam say a young woman has tested positive for both bird flu and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Doctors say the 21-year-old woman lives in Quang Ninh province, bordering China. She was hospitalized in early March with fever and coughing.

This is the first confirmed case of bird flu in Quang Ninh and the first simultaneous case of bird flu and HIV. The province has some of the highest numbers of HIV carriers in Vietnam, mostly drug addicts and prostitutes.

Since the end of 2003, bird flu has killed 36 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and three Cambodians.

Health experts fear the bird flu virus, usually contracted by contact with infected poultry, could lead to a pandemic if it changes into a form that could be easily transmitted among humans.

More Than 70 Percent of Duck, Geese Test Positive for Bird Flu in Vietnam's Mekong Delta

More than 70 percent of random duck and geese samples have tested positive for bird flu in Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta, but many farmers have refused to slaughter their flocks, officials said Wednesday.

"We still don't know how strong the virus is," said Nguyen Ba Thanh, director of the Can Tho regional animal health center. "It may kill or may not kill the poultry, but it shows that the virus is entrenched in the region."

Of more than 10,000 duck and geese samples gathered from poultry farms across 10 Mekong Delta provinces, 71 percent have tested positive so far this year, Thanh said. The virus also was found in about 21 percent of sampled chickens, he said.

The test results suggest that more than 10 million out of nearly 20 million total birds should be slaughtered to try to stamp out the virus, he said. However, farmers are resisting local government orders to kill their flocks because of lost income.

The government has offered to pay 32 cents to 64 cents for each bird slaughtered. But birds sold on the market command $1.30 to $1.90 a piece.

Thanh said a meeting is scheduled next week to address the issue.

"We need stronger and unified measures from the government," he said.

Bird flu has also jumped to humans, killing 51 people in the region, including 36 in Vietnam, since the virus ravaged farms across the region in late 2003.

Experts fear that if the virus mutates into a form that could be passed easily from person to person it could spark a global pandemic and kill millions worldwide. However, there is no evidence that the virus has altered its form and most human cases have been traced back to contact with poultry.

EU mulls bird flu pandemic fund

The European Union should be able to dip into a 1 billion euro (680,000 million pound) disaster fund to buy emergency vaccines and anti-viral drugs if there were bird flu pandemic, the EU executive Commission says.

Some 51 people have died from the virus since it swept across Asia at the end of 2003.

Experts fear a pandemic could be unleashed where bird flu would spread among humans as well as being transmitted from infected birds to humans as is currently the case.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou is proposing that EU states fighting a pandemic can use the EU's 1 billion euro disaster fund to pay for drugs.

"This will enable the much-needed budgetary flexibility that is necessary to cope with major health emergencies," he told the European Parliament.

"This fund would have an annual volume of 1 billion euro and would explicitly cover costs of vaccines and anti-virals."

For the proposal to take effect, the 25 EU states and the European Parliament must agree to revising the rules of the solidarity fund, created to fund disaster relief and reconstruction after summer floods in Europe in 2002.

The proposal would boost EU governments' efforts to stock up on vaccines and anti-virals, an EU official said.

The 25-nation bloc is trying to co-ordinate its negotiations with drug companies to buy vaccines so all countries can get access to medicine rather than big countries garnering the lion's share.

Tens of millions of fowl have died of bird flu or been slaughtered in a so far vain attempt to kill off the virus, which the World Health Organisation says is now endemic in parts of southeast Asia.

Indonesia detects bird flu virus in pigs

The Compas newspaper in Indonesia on April 10 reported that the country has detected the bird flu virus in pigs. This is a new development concerning bird flu in Indonesia as the avian virus has traditionally been found only in poultry.

The newspaper quoted a scientist from the Airlangga University as saying that the virus has not appeared in the pig’s innards yet, however, it has penetrated into its body. The virus has been confirmed as H5N1, similar to those found in Yunnan province of China, but different from those detected in Thailand, Viet Nam and Cambodia. The virus in these countries can be transmitted from birds to humans

Bird flu jitters cause bank fears in Asia

Investment banks are starting to issue warnings on the risks avian influenza poses to the economies and financial markets of East Asia, as health experts struggle to assess whether the disease has the potential to cause a pandemic at all.

With Asia, and particularly China, now the main area of global economic growth along with the United States, economists are considering any factors that could derail the region's expansion. Many such risks are familiar ones - an earthquake in Japan, a banking crisis, civil unrest in China or a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

What has been striking in the past two months is the prominence with which avian flu, or bird flu, is being mentioned as a risk as well. Discussion of the disease has increased with public anxiety.

CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, the Asian investment banking arm of Credit Agricole of France, estimated in a report issued this week that the disease had already cost Asian countries $US8billion to $US12billion ($10.4billion to $15.6billion) , mostly from the deaths or destruction of 140million chickens and other poultry. But the cost would be greater if the disease gained the ability to spread easily from person to person, a possibility not factored into stock and other asset prices, CLSA's chief equity strategist, Christopher Wood, said.

"It would be a regional panic and potentially a global panic," he said. "There's no way markets can discount this."

CLSA hired an American company, Bio Economic Research Associates, to produce much of its report, part of a growing reliance in East Asia on medical assessments of market risks after outbreaks in 2003 of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). That disease almost paralysed air travel in the region and dealt severe, if short-lived, blows to stock and real-estate markets.

Tim Condon, chief Asian economist at the ING Group, said that though avian flu was a big risk for Asia, it was very difficult to estimate the prospects of its becoming significantly more damaging.

Generally, a pandemic involves the spread of a disease over a wide region. The World Health Organisation has confirmed 79 human cases, including a family of five in Vietnam on Monday, but it has said the minimum for a pandemic is 2million to 7million dead.

Among corporate pessimists, Citigroup has issued increasingly dire warnings, saying that avian flu could become much worse than SARS. Unlike SARS, influenza probably could not be stopped through quarantines or fever-recognition scanners at airports, because influenza victims become infectious up to a full day before they start exhibiting symptoms.

Influenza experts from around the world are meeting American officials in Washington this week to review what is known about the disease and what steps can be taken to prevent a pandemic.

A 10-year-old Vietnamese girl has died from avian flu, according to local health officials.

The girl, who lived in Hanoi, is believed to be the 50th recorded death from the virus in Asia since the latest outbreak hit in January 2004.

Vietnam has seen 36 of those deaths, while Thailand has lost 12 people and Cambodia two.

Experts are worried the virus could eventually combine with human flu and risk a deadly pandemic.

Nguyen Hai Yen, 10, died on 27 March in St Paul's Hospital in Hanoi, Le Van Diem, director of the hospital, told the BBC Vietnamese service.

"As soon as the patient was admitted to our hospital, her conditions became very serious and the patient passed away. The later test result from the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology confirmed it was the H5N1 virus," he said.

The government last week announced a nationwide clean-up of poultry farms, to try to stop the spread of bird flu.

The Ministry of Health said that large commercial operations and small local farms in every village in Vietnam would be disinfected.

North Korea is the most recent addition to the list of Asian countries hit by bird flu. But its poultry have been infected with the H7 strain of the virus, which is less deadly to humans.

The strain that has decimated poultry stocks and caused recent human deaths in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam is the more virulent H5N1 strain.


Bird Flu Has Cost Asia an Estimated $8-12 Billion

The bird flu outbreak in Asia has already cost the region about $8 billion to $12 billion and is intensifying pressure for tighter biosecurity, a report by investment bank CLSA says.

In the report, entitled "One Flu Over the Chicken's Nest: Is a Killer Bird Flu Pandemic Upon Us?," CLSA said investors had not focused on the disease even though it had devastated the agri-industries of several Asian countries.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which can jump from birds to humans, has killed 49 people since 2003, 16 since the disease erupted anew in December.

The World Health Organization has issued repeated warnings in recent months about the increasing risk of a global influenza pandemic emerging from the bird flu crisis in Asia.

CLSA said it was difficult to assign a probability or timetable for a pandemic but the epicenter would likely be Thailand, Vietnam or China.

The economies of Hong Kong, Singapore and China would be hit hardest initially by a pandemic, based on healthcare expenditure and tourist arrivals per capita and total trade divided by gross domestic product.

However, as those countries had greater resources to combat the disease they may suffer fewer fatalities than poorer areas, the report said.

"It is presumed that the economic consequences for Asia and the rest of the world will be more severe if the epicenter for the initial outbreaks were in southern China as opposed to Vietnam or Thailand," the report said.

The report was commissioned by U.S.-based Bio Economic Research Associates.

The spread of the virus among poultry has proved extremely difficult to stamp out in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

North Korea recently reported cases among poultry, prompting China and South Korea to tighten quarantine controls on their borders with the Stalinist state.

More than 140 million birds have died or been culled in Asia because of the disease, significantly disrupting poultry production and trade. CLSA said that would accelerate the shift of poultry production from small farms to large-scale operations, which have been most successful in containing the disease.


Bush Order Allows Isolation of Those with Bird Flu

President Bush issued a directive on Friday allowing authorities to detain or isolate any passenger suspected of having avian flu when arriving in the United States aboard an international flight.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed 49 people in Asia since 2003, 35 in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand and 2 Cambodians, while millions of birds have been slaughtered to contain the disease.

Even so, the World Health Organization has said it had seen no evidence so far to suggest the bird flu virus was changing into a form that could be easily transmitted from one human to another.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy called the directive a precautionary measure.

"There's no evidence of any risk of avian flu to the American people at this time. But in an abundance of caution, this is a pragmatic step to ensure the government has the authority it needs to protect the American people as best it can," Duffy said.

The Bush order added pandemic influenza to the list of diseases for which quarantine is authorized. Pandemic flu is considered a novel or re-emergent strain to which there is little or no population immunity.

Under the directive, the Health and Human Services Department is given legal authority to detain or isolate any passenger suspected of having the avian flu to prevent the person from infecting others.

Quarantine and isolation were last used during the outbreak of SARS in 2003.

No avian flu in Burma but we are still looking for it, says vet

In order to find out whether there was an outbreak of avian flu in Burma over recent deaths of chickens in southern Burma Mon State, the government’s veterinary department is carefully doing diagnosis in laboratories.

According to the latest findings, the deaths were caused by the so-called twisted neck disease and heat waves, according to Dr. Tin Aye Kyi. But as the symptoms of avian flu and “twisted neck” disease are the same, the vets are still doing diagnosis in the labs.

At the end of March, a large number of chickens died suddenly at Moulmein and Kyaikmaraw townships in Mon State, prompting fears among the people as they thought there was an outbreak of a chicken flu. Dr. Tin Aye Kyi said she and her team visited the areas affected and checked dead chickens.

“We found swollen heads, and as I said earlier, some pus and bile. We found haemorrhage on the brains but they could be caused by heat waves. From our operations and clinical findings and samples we collected, we found nothing extraordinary,” she said. “As for the rest, we took some blood samples so that we could do diagnosis later.”

According to new reports, around 300 chicks owned by the police, die at the end of March and the remaining chicks were sent back to the suppliers, CP Company in Rangoon. But a company spokesman insisted that the chicks recovered from their illness later and it is planning to organise some educational projects for the chicken breeders in Moulmein.

The majority of chickens in Mon State are bred for their meat more than for their eggs and chicken flu tend to occur in the former. Dr. Tin Aye Kyi told DVB that she will truthfully report her findings to the authority.

“When it comes to our diagnosis in the labs we have nothing to hide. If we have, we will continue to say so,” she insisted.


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

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