News about avian influenza (bird flu) in February 2005.
Airport strike fuels Dublin bird flu scare
IRISH holidaymakers suspected of catching the potentially fatal avian flu in Beijing were allowed to leave Dublin airport without being assessed by public health officials.
Last week, a British Midlands flight from London to Dublin was quarantined after eight passengers, who flew to London on a chartered flight from the Chinese capital, became severely ill.
Two of the passengers developed flu-like symptoms and began vomiting at London’s Heathrow airport and later boarded a flight to Dublin. The pilot, who knew 40 of his 188 passengers and eight crew had travelled together from Beijing, quarantined the plane and called ahead for medical assistance. He suspected they had contracted the deadly bird flu.
However, when he landed in Dublin no public health experts were available because of a strike. The passengers were allowed to leave the plane after being diagnosed with food poisoning by an airport GP and were only checked by public health officials several days later, when they were given the all clear.
The incident exposes weaknesses in Ireland’s national flu pandemic and bio-terror plans. The country has no 24-hour system to protect against outbreaks of disease such as Sars or bio-terror attacks including anthrax, nor does it have a fall-back plan in the case of strikes.
“There was no public health response. We could have had a serious incident on our hands,” said Paul McKeown, a specialist in public health with the National Disease Surveillance Centre. “People’s lives were placed at risk — viruses are highly tenacious. We avoided a crisis only because we were lucky; but we can’t rely on lucky escapes.”
A long-running dispute over pay and status means Ireland’s 300 public health doctors are refusing to provide out-of-hours and weekend cover. The matter is before the Labour Relations Commission.
“We could have found ourselves in the middle of a serious international outbreak,” said Catherine Hayes, a public health doctor and the chair of the public health committee of the Irish Medical Organisation.
“We could have been dealing with avian bird flu or Sars. We have now traced the victims, who suffered from a norovirus (gastroenteritis), but we were two days behind in our investigation. Without resolution of this dispute we will remain completely exposed in the event of a serious outbreak.”
Ireland’s vulnerability to outbreaks of disease has already been exposed. At the height of the global Sars crisis two years ago, a Chinese immigrant suspected of having the virus absconded from a Dublin hostel where she was supposed to be monitored.
Late last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed concern that there could be an outbreak of a human version of avian influenza at any time. “We could be getting closer to such a pandemic,” said the WHO, “and, if it happens, it’s going to be worse than Sars was.”
An outbreak of influenza poses the biggest threat to Ireland’s public health, according to a recent anti-terrorism report.
Japan Found Bird Flu in Flies from 2004 Outbreak
Japanese researchers found flies infected with the bird flu virus after an outbreak among chickens in Japan last year, a Health Ministry official said on Tuesday, a finding that underscores the ability of the deadly virus to jump between species.
Besides having killed dozens of humans and caused the cull of millions of wild and farmed birds across Asia, the H5N1 strain has been known to infect other species such as cats and leopards.
While there was no risk of humans catching the bird flu virus from flies, the possibility that flies could spread the virus among birds could not be ruled out and they should be exterminated in any future bird flu outbreaks, the official said.
"As a preventive measure such things (exterminating flies) are probably needed to ensure the safest measures," said Hiroshi Takimoto, who heads the ministry's office of infectious disease information.
Humans are normally only infected by contact with large concentrations of the bird flu virus and it is "scientifically impossible" for people to be infected by flies, Takimoto said.
The H5N1 bird flu strain was found in flies caught last March near a poultry farm in Kyoto in western Japan that had seen an outbreak of the virus the previous month, he said.
It was likely that this was the first time anywhere that the transmission of the bird flu virus to flies had been confirmed, he added.
In December, the Health Ministry said that at least one person had been infected with the virus after the Kyoto poultry farm outbreak — the first human case of the virus in Japan.
The ministry said at the time that four others had also probably been infected, but added that none of the five had developed any symptoms of bird influenza and that there was no chance that they would infect others.
Thirteen people in Vietnam have died in the latest bird flu outbreaks there, which came a year after the highly contagious virus arrived in Asia.
The World Health Organization and health officials around the globe fear that the H5N1 strain might mutate into a lethal new virus that could spread rapidly among humans.
New bird flu symptoms reported
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is warning doctors to look out for new symptoms related to the deadly avian flu outbreak in Southeast Asia.
At least two children in Vietnam who died of bird flu had diarrhea and seizures rather than classic respiratory symptoms.
In the Feb. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City said two children died in February 2004 of acute encephalitis that was caused by the H5N1 type of bird flu.
Lab tests showed the H5N1 virus in the children's feces, raising fears that the virus could be passed from person to person.
Dr. Aleina Tweed, an epidemiologist, said doctors in British Columbia are being told to watch for gastrointestinal problems, especially in children, when they see sick people who have recently travelled in Southeast Asia.
"We wanted to make sure that the medical health community was aware that there are different presentations of this, not to be looking only for respiratory illness among people who have recently travelled to this area," Tweed said.
Late last year, doctors in B.C. were put on high alert to watch for signs of avian flu in people coming back from Southeast Asia. World Health Organization experts believe the H5N1 flu strain poses the single greatest threat of a pandemic in humans.
Some infectious disease specialists say there is no need to panic.
"What I'm questioning is this escalating rhetoric, led by the World Health Organization, that's trying to tell us that in fact we are on the verge of a pandemic," Dr. Richard Schabas told CBC Radio's The Current.
"I don't think we really know what it is that triggers a pandemic, what it is that causes a particular virus to transform itself," added Schabas, Ontario's former chief medical officer of health. Tweed said while it is troubling to hear reports of new symptoms, a bird flu pandemic is not possible unless the virus spreads easily from one person to another. There is very little information now about that risk.
In Asia, it is more common to get H5N1 directly from poultry, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
"We certainly concur with the WHO that this is a very serious threat. Whether it is a threat that will manifest itself, there's no way to know, until it actually happens," Tweed said.
"Whether it will happen this week, this month or never, we simply can't predict," she said. "But we wouldn't want to take the chance, and not be as prepared as we can."
Mayor's bird flu shield for key workers
Key workers such as police, firefighters and health and transport workers will be the first to get protection against the potentially lethal bird flu if a pandemic spreads from south-east Asia.
Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, yesterday revealed that he had bought supplies of anti-viral drugs to treat 100,000 essential workers in the capital, putting the government on the back foot since it has yet to publish national plans to cope with such a crisis.
The Department of Health said it would announce its plans "very shortly". Some sources have suggested that as well as treatment there could be inflatable mortuaries, quarantine, and travel restrictions.
The Conservatives accused ministers of being dangerously slow, pointing out that the French government, which recently announced it would buy enough treatment for 13 million people, believes its contingency plans may save between 90,000 and 210,000 lives should disaster strike.
Antivirals would not guarantee recovery from avian flu, and trials of a vaccine against the strain responsible for the Asian epidemic will only start in the US in the next few weeks. However Roche, makers of the antiviral Tamiflu, said laboratory tests suggested its treatment would mitigate the effects of the flu.
Mr Livingstone's announcement came as a World Health Organisation official said the world was "in the gravest possible danger" of a pandemic.
The mayor told the London assembly that he had paid £1m for the antiviral stocks, which should be available in eight weeks' time. He wanted the services across London protected so that the capital could carry on as normal in a pandemic. "We are slightly ahead of the government and they are going to announce a national strategy. We will fit into that." The treatment would shorten the course of the virus, make people less infectious, and help prevent complications like pneumonia.
Andrew Lansley, the Conservative health spokesman, said the government should act urgently. "There must be a stockpile of antivirals because we can't be sure we will have a safe and effective vaccine."
But Britain should also be informing vaccine suppliers so that industry is geared up to meet demand.
Because of production problems there have been shortages this year of the vaccine that protects against "normal" flu - a perception shared by the WHO which understands government reluctance to stockpile vaccines that might be effective against one type of flu but not another.
The DoH is looking at developing "seed" materials that might be used for rapid development of any effective vaccine, a process that normally takes months.
The French plans suggest that if key workers took antivirals prophylactically before being exposed to bird flu, deaths among them might be cut by four-fifths. Giving the drugs to old people, pregnant women, babies and others most at risk, after they have got flu, might cut deaths in this group by 29%.
It was not clear last night about use of the antivirals in the UK. Huge supplies might be needed just for key workers.
World health officials urge overhauling poultry
As Vietnam reported 27 new outbreaks of bird flu, public health officials meeting here called for a massive transformation in poultry farming throughout Southeast Asia to stem the epidemic.
The biggest challenge will be to reform the practices of millions of subsistence farmers who share living space with their chickens, ducks and other animals. Scientists said such conditions created a hothouse for mutations within the flu virus that could eventually allow it to pass easily between people — a precondition for a possible pandemic.
U.S. officials said they were nearing the start of a large clinical trial of an experimental avian flu vaccine that could help suppress the virus if it spread beyond Southeast Asia.
The "backyard farmers" of Vietnam — the country that has borne the brunt of the latest outbreak — raise about 90 percent of the country's poultry, said Cao Duc Phat, the nation's agriculture minister, at a news conference during a three-day meeting convened by the World Health Organization.
Among other recommendations, officials urged that chickens and other fowl be kept out of homes, that different species of birds be segregated on farms and in markets to limit spread of the virus, and that domestic fowl be kept penned up so they can't mingle with the wild ducks thought to be a natural reservoir for the virus, formally known as H5N1.
Changing farming practices and monitoring the spread of the disease, which has killed 45 people in the past year — 13 in the past month — and devastated the poultry industry in parts of Southeast Asia, will require massive infusions of aid from rich nations, officials said.
"The world is now in the gravest possible danger of a pandemic" that would dwarf SARS in its lethality, scope and economic cost, Shigeru Omi, the WHO's top Asia-Pacific official, told delegates from more than two dozen nations.
Some changes have already begun, and they have had an major economic impact. In Ho Chi Minh City, few birds are in evidence because of a recently enacted ban.
Nguyen Thi Le, a nearby fish seller, said the ban was an overreaction that cost many jobs and depressed local businesses: "Many people, since they cannot sell chicken, had to go back to their home villages."
Also at the meeting, Japanese researchers pointed out a potential new carrier, noting that they had captured flies infected with H5N1 last year.
Researchers have not yet demonstrated that the virus can replicate in flies or that they can transmit it to other species, but Japanese authorities cautioned that such transmission cannot be ruled out and that flies should also be exterminated in future outbreaks.
Thailand OKs Selective Bird Flu Vaccin
Seeking ways to fight the spread of deadly bird flu, Thailand's Cabinet on Tuesday approved a program to vaccinate free-range chickens, ducks, fighting cocks and tropical birds.
The decision reversed a ban that the government had maintained on vaccinating birds.
Details of how the program will be implemented will be decided after further study, government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said.
Under the guidelines approved Tuesday, vaccines still will not be used on chickens raised in closed areas, where most fowl for export are raised, Jakrapob said.
There are fears that overseas customers would reject Thai poultry if it were vaccinated. Jakrapob said the government would consult with exporters and customers on the matter.
Thailand's poultry industry was decimated by bird flu, which swept through the country and other parts of Asia last year, leading to the culling of more than 100 million of birds in an effort to stop the virus.
The disease also killed 45 people — 32 from Vietnam, 12 from Thailand and one from Cambodia — over the past year. Scientists fear it may mutate and cause a worldwide flu pandemic which could kill millions of people.
"Vaccination is a way to curtail the spread of bird flu but it has to be combined with other methods, such as close monitoring and limiting the area in which free-range poultry are allowed to roam," said Dr. Charal Trinwuthipong, director of the Bird Flu Control and Prevention Center.
Charal said some vaccine could be produced domestically, and the government would determine how much more would be imported. Thailand also plans to increase its production capacity, he said.
He said the bird flu epidemic in Thailand is "under control," with 26 areas in eight of the country's 76 provinces being monitored especially closely for possible new infections.
Vietnam says bird flu subsiding, no new human cases
Vietnam's latest bird flu epidemic, which has killed 13 people in a little more than a month, is showing sign of subsiding and no humans have caught it in the past week, the government said on Tuesday.
The animal health department said in a report the outbreak of the deadly H5N1 virus, which has killed 45 people since it arrived in Asia in late 2003, had caused new infections in six provinces last week.
But the virus, which has spread to more than half Vietnam's 64 provinces and cities since it re-emerged in December, had caused no new infections in poultry in seven of them over the last three weeks, it said.
The government has taken drastic measures in its war on the virus, which experts fear could mutate into a form that could pass between humans and cause a pandemic that might kill millions in a world population without immunity.
It curbed the movement of poultry in the run up to last week's Tet, the Lunar New Year festival, banned the raising of all waterfowl until June 30 and called for international expertise to help roll the virus back.
Even so, the virus, which seems to thrive best in cooler weather and can be carried by waterfowl without showing symptoms, has now killed 32 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and one Cambodian.
Most bird flu victims have caught the virus directly from infected poultry and it kills 80 percent of them.
Next week, the U.N. food agency and the World Organization for Animal Health will hold a regional meeting in Ho Chi Minh City to discuss the emergency.
Bird flu outbreak in northern Thailand
A patient suspected of having bird flu has been admitted to hospital in Thailand's central province of Phitsanulok, the Thai News Agency reported Monday.
The six-year-old boy from Bangrakam district has had a record of close physical contact with chickens, the agency said.
He is currently under constant medical supervision.
Government officials are worried about the bird flu outbreak in the province. Prompiram district has been worst hit, where the H5N1 virus was detected in eight different spots.
The authorities are preparing to destroy the poultry in the affected areas to help prevent the spread of the disease to nearby districts.
So far more than a thousand chickens have been culled in two villages in Phrompiran district.
Krabi keeps up strict bird flu controls
The southern province of Krabi is keeping up strict measures to prevent outbreaks of avian flu, its chief livestock officer announced today.
Mr. Kwanphan Antarasen said that although no cases of the virus had been discovered in the province, it would nonetheless keep up strict controls.Included in the measures are checkpoints to monitor the movement of all poultry, while the public is being called on to carry out close checks on chickens and ducks. Fighting cocks in the province have been issued with identity cards, and officers are inspecting farms where they are being raised.
However, laboratory tests from the farms have not found any cases of the viruses, Mr. Kwanphan noted.
Cambodia tightens poultry import ban to prevent spread of bird flu
Cambodia's leader ordered border officials Thursday to tighten a ban on poultry imports to prevent the spread of bird flu.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said cheap poultry meat and eggs continue to be smuggled into Cambodia from Vietnam and Thailand, despite a ban that has been in place since the avian influenza virus emerged last year.
Smugglers have managed to bring in the products through unofficial crossing points along Cambodia's eastern and western borders, he said.
"The influx of low-priced poultry produced in neighbouring countries is hurting the local industry ... and could lead to the spread of bird flu from those countries," he said in a letter to border officials Thursday ordering them to stamp out smuggling to protect local poultry and keep local people safe.
At least 45 people from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia have died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu since last year.
Cambodia has stepped up measures to curb the spread of the disease since a 25-year-old woman from the southwestern province of Kampot died of the virus Jan. 30 in a hospital in Vietnam.
On Sunday, Cambodia reported a new bird flu outbreak among chickens near the capital, Phnom Penh.
This week, teams of government health and agriculture officials started travelling across the country's southwest looking for signs of infected people and poultry, and advising villagers on how to avoid contracting the disease.
Silom area’s birds free from bird flu
Wild birds on Bangkok’s famous business area on Silom Road in the heart of the capital city are free from bird flu, according to a senior government official.
The Ministry of Mineral Resources and Environment announced the clean bill of health after the results of the second round of tests for the disease were released on Thursday.
The ministry's Wildlife Conservation Office collected samples of wild birds throughout the country, including those from Silom Road, between January and February.
The samples were only checked for the virus. Only one of the wild birds tested was found to be carrying the virus. Two hundred samples from wild swallows, collected along Silom Road at the end of January were totally free of the virus, the director of the office, Schwann Tulhikorn, told TNA.
“Silom residents should not panic when they see the swallows around that area anymore,” he said.
Among samples collected between October and January, 16 birds were found to be carrying the virus, Mr. Schwann told TNA.
Less wild birds have died from unknown causes at Bueng Boraphet, a renowned national water park in the country's northern province of Nakorn Sawan, compared to a week earlier, according to the report.The national water park is the largest water area in the country, to which wild birds migrate from the North for the winter.
More than 1,000 samples are still waiting to be checked by the Mahidol University’s laboratory and the results should be announced soon, he said.
Poultry rest day set for Friday (HK)
Stall operators and the public are reminded that the next rest day for poultry outlets falls on February 11.
On the day, operators of market poultry stalls and fresh provision shops must slaughter all live poultry remaining on their premises before noon, and suspend business in the afternoon and evening to carry out thorough cleaning and disinfection.
All poultry retailers must strictly observe the rest day conditions. They must not remove any live poultry from their premises to avoid slaughtering of the unsold live poultry before the start of the rest day.
Food & Environmental Hygiene Department staff will inspect each poultry outlet on the day. Failure to comply with the rest day conditions will lead to immediate cancellation of fresh provision shop licences or termination of market stall tenancies.
Avian flu surveillance, prevention efforts expand in Asia
Thai officials this week stepped up surveillance and prevention efforts against avian influenza, mirroring events taking place across Southeast Asia.
Thai authorities announced they had 100,000 doses of avian flu vaccine in event of a serious poultry outbreak in Thailand, the Thai News Agency reported today. More laboratories also have been opened in the country to speed testing.
Six Thai provinces have been under close scrutiny this year owing to avian flu outbreaks among chickens, the Bangkok Post reported: Phichit, Suphan Buri, Rayong, Nakhon Pathom, Phetchabun, and Phitsanulok. Thousands of volunteers have gone door to door in villages to warn people about the threat of another outbreak and to teach them to protect themselves with rubber gloves and masks before handling poultry.
Across the border in Cambodia, health officers are conducting similar education and surveillance activities, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Feb 9.
A radio station in southwest Cambodia, the region that includes the home of Cambodia's first human victim of H5N1, is broadcasting information on precautions every hour, the AP reported. A 25-year-old woman from Kampot died from H5N1 on Jan 30 in a hospital in Vietnam. Investigations into her death continue.
In China, authorities announced they had developed two new poultry vaccines for H5N1 flu. Developers touted the vaccine as a breakthrough in an AsiaNews story on Feb. 8. However, a source close to the institute where the new vaccines were developed told AsiaNews that the vaccines are not different from existing products.
Meanwhile, A Feb 8 story on the Science and Development Network Web site describes the new vaccines as longer-lasting and safe. Deng Guohua, one of the researchers, said one of the vaccines combines fowl-pox and H5N1 viruses, and called it safe for poultry and mammals.
China has not reported any poultry outbreaks of H5N1 to the World Organization for Animal Health since June 2004.
Cambodia confirms new bird flu outbreak
Cambodian official on Sunday confirmed a new bird flu outbreak in Kandal province, about 12 km south form the capital Phnom Penh, raising the fears of the spread of the deadly virus in Cambodia.
It is the first report of bird flu outbreak in Cambodia. The H5N1 virus was detected by Phnom Penh's Pasteur Institute in dead chickens in a small family chicken farm, Agriculture Ministry official San Vanty told reporters on Sunday.
More than 100 chickens there were already culled and the official from the government and the World Health Organization (WHO )hurriedly went there to take measures, he added.
Officials ordered the people not to eat dead chickens and duck, and the poultry of this area was prohibited to ship out. Meanwhile, disinfectant was sprayed in the area to prevent the spread of the virus.
Cambodia's Ministry of Health and the WHO confirmed on Saturday that a 25-year-old woman from Kampot Province who died of respiratory illness in Vietnam on Jan. 30 was infected with avian influenza, which is the first human case of avian influenza in Cambodia.
Bird flu 'not stopping smugglers'
Despite repeated warnings, some people continue to engage in activities that expose the country to the bird flu.
In the last three weeks, the Customs and Anti-Smuggling Unit seized two lorryloads of dressed chicken from Thailand.
Bird flu hits two more Thai provinces
A deadly strain of bird flu has broken out in two more provinces in northern Thailand, bringing to eight the number of provinces affected by the disease, a senior official said Thursday.
"We detected the virus during our re-examination of every part of the country," Saravudh Suvannababba of the National Avian Influenza Center told AFP.
In the northeastern province of Nong Khai, along the Laos border, the virus was found in the districts of Thabor and Sri Chiang Mai, where 208 chickens had died of the disease, he said.
Another 73 of the birds were culled to prevent the disease from spreading, he added.
Bird flu was also detected in Pichit province, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) north of Bangkok, where 20 chickens died of the disease and 27 more were culled.
Thailand has been under high alert for bird flu since the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus was detected in chickens and fighting cocks in the provinces of Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Sawan, Phitsanulok, Rayong and Uttaradit.
The disease was also detected in pigeons in the central Thai province of Uthai Thani, where more than 400 pigeons were culled.
Twelve people have died in Thailand from the virus that has swept Asia since December 2003. Another 33 people have died in nearby Vietnam.
Thailand's cabinet has endorsed 4.8-billion-baht (124.7-million-dollar) scheme to fight bird flu.
First known Cambodian victim of bird flu dies in Vietnam
A Cambodian woman who died in southern Vietnam has tested positive for bird flu, becoming the first Cambodian known to have died after contracting the virus, a doctor said Tuesday.
"The test results showed that she was positive to the H5N1 virus," Dr Phan Anh Tu from Ho Chi Minh City's Pasteur Institute told AFP.
A doctor from Kien Giang provincial hospital said that 10 days before the woman died, her 14-year-old brother died in Cambodia's Kampot province.
"Her relatives told us that he died after showing similar symptoms," she said, adding that they lived in areas of Cambodia where many chickens have been infected. No tests have been made on the brother. Cambodia has not announced any outbreaks of the virus so far this year.
A Cambodian official said his government had yet to receive word from Vietnam about the case. "We have not yet received any official information," said San Vanthy, an agriculture official responsible for monitoring bird flu.
"We have sent officials to the area to monitor and we have banned imports of poultry throughout the area," he added.
Nearly Current overview from AP / WHO / CDC
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