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Latest news about Bird Flu (Avian Influenza)


Philippines culls 500 parrots on bird-flu fears

The Philippines culled about 500 parrots imported from Indonesia as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the bird-flu virus from other Southeast Asian countries, officials said on Tuesday.

The Philippines, which has remained free of the virus that ravaged poultry farms and killed 53 people across large parts of Asia since late 2003, has banned the import of poultry from countries affected by bird flu.

"The country remains bird-flu free, so we are very strict in implementing our existing ban," Victor Atienza, assistant director at the Bureau of Animal Industry, told Reuters.

Atienza said the parrots, seized on Sunday by coastguard officials from a boat en route to Manila from the southern province of Saranggani on the Philippine-Indonesia border, were destroyed on Monday.

The parrots, in 14 cages, were on their way to Manila for export to Europe, coastguard officials said.

In February last year, quarantine officials destroyed 350 lovebirds a week before Valentine's Day after they learned that the birds had passed through Bangkok en route from Amsterdam.

Australia bird flu risk relatively low

Health experts say the risk of bird flu reaching Australia is not very high at present.

Earlier this week migrating geese were found dead after carrying the disease into China.

Aileen Plant, professor of international health at Western Australia's Curtin University, says it is unlikely migratory birds would bring the disease to Australia.

Professor Plant says there is a greater risk the flu will evolve so it can be carried by humans.

"It would have to come in through migratory birds, and we don't think that's particularly likely, and the bigger risk is through humans," she said.

"At the moment this disease is not spreading human-to-human, so at the moment the risk is relatively low, but we do think the world is at risk of bird flu in the not too distant future."

Bird flu patient dies in Ha Noi

A man admitted to the Institute for Clinical Research into Tropical Diseases with bird flu last Monday has died.

Nguyen Tien Cuu, 46, from Binh Kieu Commune in the Khoai Chau District of Hung Yen Province, about 40km west of Ha Noi, arrived in a very critical condition with lung inflammation and weak kidneys, says the Health Ministry.

He died on Thursday.

Two other patients undergoing treatment at the institute have tested positive for bird flu.

One is from central Thanh Hoa Province and the other from northern Vinh Phuc Province.

Both were suffering from lung inflammation and fever but their condition is now stable.

Khoai Chau District Health Centre director Dr Le Van Luong said Cuu was brought to the hospital after treating himself for several days at home.

"We have investigated and have yet to find the cause of his infection," he said.

Cuu’s family had a small flock of chickens and ducks but all the birds were still very strong.

"We and local animal health workers have destroyed his family flock and cleaned the environment around his house to a radius of 150m."

There were no chickens or ducks with the virus in the district, said Luong.

Blood samples from animals and people who had direct contact with Cuu were taken at the commune yesterday by officials from the Hygiene and Epidemic Prevention centre.

The results are expected soon.


Bird flu virus found in 45 eggs at Chinese airport checkpoint

Passengers flying from Vietnam to Guangzhou, China, were carrying eggs infected with the bird (avian) flu H5N1virus, say Chinese officials. Officials say they have detected a total of 45 infected eggs from two separate flights. This is the first case of infected eggs in a Chinese airport in two years.

Officials were concerned because the eggs came from a variety of birds (chicken, goose and duck) and two separate flights. Many are wondering how many have got through.

The whole area has been disinfected


WHO to warn on changing avian flu

The WHO is to announce new research showing that the pattern of avian flu in northern Vietnam is consistent with human-to-human infection.

BBC News has obtained an advance copy of the study, which urges governments to bolster public health measures.

The new methods will be needed to protect against a new influenza pandemic, the WHO paper says.

It is thought that at least 92 people have caught the avian influenza virus from handling poultry since late 2003.

But in a handful of cases, there is the suspicion that the virus has mutated and spread from person to person.

Infection clusters

Scientists fear this new infection could form the basis of a new world-wide flu pandemic.

In the first detailed assessment of this possibility, a WHO team says that the infection pattern in northern Vietnam may indicate that the infection is passing from one person to another.

Avian flu virus discovered on eggs from Vietnam

The deadliest form of the avian influenza virus was found in Guangdong for the first time last month on 45 eggs brought in by air from Vietnam by two passengers.

According to the Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau report Wednesday, officials at the Guangdong airport discovered the eggs in the hand luggage of the passengers on separate flights from Vietnam on April 28.

Sniffer dogs detected the eggs, of which five were chicken eggs, five duck eggs, five goose eggs and 30 fertilized duck embryos. The eggs were immediately sent to the provincial and state laboratories for tests as they came from a bird-flu-infected area, the report said.

Most of the duck-embryo shells were cracked and the embryos dead.

The duck and goose eggs tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus.

Scientists from the provincial laboratory said in the report the virus is virulent and can kill the embryos quickly. The death rate for poultry is up to 100 percent.

It was the first bird-flu-infected eggs discovered since several Southeast Asian countries were affected by the outbreak last year.

According to the World Health Organization, Vietnam has reported 68 cases of bird flu in humans since May 4 last year, of whom 36 have died since January this year.

Infectious disease expert Lo Wing-lok said the virus can survive on the surface of an egg for days.

"The Vietnam government stepped up bird flu control measures two weeks ago after studies revealed that 70 percent of waterfowl found in the Mekong River Delta area were carrying the virus,'' Lo said. "The measures include a massive cull of all waterfowls and a ban on hatching duck and goose eggs until February 2006.''

He suggested the measures were one possible reason for the export of the embryos from Vietnam.

"Although it is theoretically possible for the bird flu virus to penetrate the eggshell, so far, viruses like these have only been found outside the shell,'' Lo said.

"The risk of human infection from eating the eggs are relatively low because the eggs, unlike live poultry where the virus can multiply, only carry a fixed amount of the virus,'' he said, adding the virus on the eggshell can be washed away.

A Health, Welfare and Food Bureau statement said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has liaised with mainland authorities about the contaminated eggs in Guangdong.

"Imports of table eggs do not require prior approval. Samples are, however, taken at entry, wholesale and retail levels for testing. The results are satisfactory so far. Imported hatching eggs must be, however, be disinfected on arrival at local hatcheries,'' it said.

Indonesia plans to re-test worker for bird flu

Indonesia is trying to find a poultry worker in the east of the country to test him for bird flu for the second time after the first test was inconclusive, a health ministry official said on Wednesday.

Authorities are testing specimens from workers at poultry farms as part of a monitoring programme put in place after the potentially deadly disease emerged in Indonesia in late 2003.

"Out of 63 specimens, one was unclear and we are trying to find that person to do another test," Umar Fahmi, the health ministry's director general of communicable disease eradication, told reporters.

Fahmi said the poultry worker who required re-testing was in South Sulawesi province in eastern Indonesia, where outbreaks have been reported in poultry since the start of the year.

So far there have been no reports of people in Indonesia being infected by the bird flu virus, which has has killed 36 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and four Cambodians since the disease swept across much of the Asia region starting in late 2003.

The World Health Organisation fears the virus could mutate into a form which can pass easily among humans and trigger a global pandemic that could kill millions.

The Indonesian health ministry has increased surveillance in affected parts of Java and eastern Indonesia to try and identify possible cases of human infection.

On Tuesday, health officials in Vietnam reported a second human case of in a month.

Europe plans bird flu early warning system


The European Union will on Friday take another step towards creating an early warning system to prevent, or at least to limit, an influenza pandemic by the launch of a new continent-wide monitoring system.

Establishing a round- the-clock surveillance network to identify any European outbreaks will be the first task for the newly created European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which becomes operational in Solna, nearStockholm, on Friday.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, the ECDC's recently appointed director, said pandemic flu was the most important public health challenge her organisation faced.

Her comments came as the death toll among humans who have contracted the H5N1 bird flu strain in Asia has risen to more than 50, and experts have warned of the need for greater efforts to study infections and to prepare for a future pandemic.

So far there are no signs that the virus, which is widespread in birds and some animals, has mutated into a form easily transmissible between humans - the necessary step to trigger a pandemic - but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the risks are high.

The ECDC, currently recruiting senior scientists and managers to increase its skeleton staff of 10, will tomorrow launch 24-hour monitoring, convene a group of scientists able to offer assistance within Europe and abroad, and begin issuing daily reports.

It will also begin work on building a network of "reference laboratories" across Europe to analyse flu across the continent, and a system to monitor vaccinations against the virus. Thailand on Wednesday called for international help to create a stockpile of anti-viral drugs to treat a flu pandemic. Speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Dr Kumnuan Ungchusak from the Thai ministry of health, said developed countries needed to do more to help stem a potential outbreak of flu at its likely source in Asia.

His call came as other countries, including Algeria, warned that current income inequalities would only accentuate differences in deaths and illness from a flu pandemic.

Thai pigs cleared of avian flu

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives confirmed Sunday that no cases of avian flu had been found among Thai pigs, pointing to strict measures to ensure that the virus did not spread from poultry to other animals.

Speaking in response to the discovery of the H5N1 virus among pigs in Indonesia. Dr. Charal Trinvuthipong, Vice Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives, stressed that Thailand had been carefully monitoring for signs of the disease in pigs, but had notfound any instances of the virus, local newspapers reported Monday.

Under Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives rules draw up during the height of the bird flu crisis, farmers are told not to raise chickens and pigs together, and to inform district livestock officials immediately they discover any animal dying of unknown causes.

The Indonesian discovery is particularly worrying, given the genetic similarities between pigs and humans, and the fact that pigs are often responsible for the spread of the human influenza virus.

Scientists are concerned that the spread of avian flu to pigs could lead to the emergence of a new and potentially fatal strain of human flu.

Indonesia tests more pigs for bird flu virus

Indonesia is testing pigs in several regions for bird flu after discovering the virus in swine on densely populated Java island, an official said on Monday.

The finding last week heightened fears that the sometimes deadly virus could spread to humans in the world's fourth-most populous country and Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

Pigs can carry human flu viruses, which can combine with the avian viruses, swap genes and create virulent new strains, health experts say.

They fear the virus could mutate into a form which can pass easily among humans and trigger a global pandemic that could kill millions.

Tests have been conducted in several places, including the resort island of Bali, but so far only one area in West Java has shown positive tests for avian influenza in pigs.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country and pig farming is not widespread. Islam regards pigs as unclean animals.

"It's being carried out, but until today the results of the (other) sites show negative," the director of animal health at the agriculture ministry, Tri Satya Putri Naipospos, said.

"The pigs are not showing signs of being unhealthy, and thus we can't say they're infected. So far, three (pigs in West Java) are positive carrying the strain," she told Reuters.

She declined to give details of the location where the positive tests were made or elaborate on the kinds of measures the government was taking, saying she feared public panic.

But she said authorities were taking necessary biosecurity and surveillance measures to keep the situation under control.

"Let the government work on this first," she said.

Naipospos said authorities had not decided whether to conduct a mass cull of pigs.

So far there have been no reports of people in Indonesia being infected by the bird flu virus. Since 2003, 36 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and four Cambodians have been killed by the H5N1 strain.

On Monday, health officials reported Vietnam's first human case in a month -- a 52-year-old Vietnamese man who ate chicken that had died of a disease.

Specimens from Indonesian poultry workers have been sent for tests in Hong Kong as a precaution, officials said.

Asian states hampering bird flu checks - UN agency

A top U.N. agency official accused Asian nations of blocking proper monitoring of the deadly bird flu virus by giving too few samples to scientists, but denied a charge that his own agency was failing to share specimens.

The head of the Animal Health Service of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said countries were failing to export samples of the H5N1 bird flu virus that has killed more than 50 people in Asia since 2003.

Scientists say tracking genetic changes in the virus is essential, since they fear it could mutate and develop into a worldwide pandemic with the potential to kill millions of people.

Joseph Domenech of the FAO denied accusations by the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Michael Perdue, published in this week's edition of science journal Nature, that his agency was not sharing samples.

"Most probably there is more misunderstanding than anything else, but at the end of the day, it is true that the strains are not circulating," Domenech told Reuters.

"Some countries have samples, and they say they'll send them, but they haven't," he added, without naming any states.

In its report, Nature said the WHO had obtained only six human samples of the virus and no infected poultry samples in the past eight months.

The report quoted Perdue, of the WHO's flu programme, as saying that FAO "hasn't been sharing" the samples it has.

Domenech acknowledged that some Asian samples provided to domestic laboratories had explicit instructions that they not be exported without authorisation.

But he rejected the assertion made in the magazine that FAO was not sharing samples.

"There are no FAO laboratories. There is no FAO deep freezer where we could put the strains," Domenech said. "It's impossible to imagine that FAO doesn't want to share strains, because we don't have strains."

Domenech said infected nations were worried about losing control of the situation and of negative publicity. He said that Asian nations had exported only a few samples this year.

Nature quoted Perdue as saying that to overcome the problem, WHO representatives had met government officials from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to ask for poultry samples of the virus to be sent directly to it.

Domenech said that was unnecessary and reiterated that the allegations in Nature were false.

"Basically we collaborate and we cannot understand (the accusations) ... because this is totally wrong," he said

Old flu test might miss new cases

A diagnostic test designed by Canadian researchers and used in Vietnam to detect H5N1 avian flu is out of date, scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory admit -- raising the possibility some cases might have been missed.

The test was designed using genetic sequencing information from samples of the virus that circulated in early 2004. But the virus has changed since and questions have surfaced about the test's sensitivity.

"Well, you have to be concerned," says Dr. Earl Brown, a virologist at the University of Ottawa. "You want to have a good idea of how much infection is going on out there."


Country free of avian flu, say officials.

Thailand is now free of avian influenza for the first time since the second outbreak of the virus in July of last year, officials said yesterday.

Yesterday marked the end of the 21-day bird flu surveillance period at a farm in Lop Buri province, the last place in the country to have reported the disease.

Charal Trinvuthipong, assistant to the agriculture and cooperatives minister, said the Livestock Development Department had kept the Lop Buri farm under surveillance for 21 days after some poultry there became infected with bird flu.

This is the first time since the second outbreak last July that the country has been declared free of the disease in farms and other areas of concern.

But Dr Charal said the ministry would remain vigilant for any re-emergence of the H5N1 virus and officials would conduct bi-weekly checks for bird flu.

The ministry has also recruited more than 600 temporary employees to monitor the disease, he said. They would be deployed in eight northern and central provinces which were regarded as red zones where the disease kept on reappearing. These were Ang Thong, Lop Buri, Kampheng Phet, Nakhon Sawan, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Suphan Buri and Uttaradit provinces.

He added that no new bird flu patients have been reported since last October.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan said the ministry is proposing improvements to fowl raising methods for small farmers. She said they would be encouraged to form groups and raise their poultry together in closed-system farms in their respective areas to reduce the chance of fowl infection.

Since the flu first struck here last January, more than 60 million birds have been culled and 12 people have died. There have been no human fatalities since the death of a 14-year-old girl in Sukhothai province who died on Oct 19.

Bird flu has cost the country's economy about 4.3 billion baht in addition to the 2.2 billion baht compensation the government paid to farmers for the mass chicken cull in January 2003.


Bird flu mutates and now more infectious

Deadly bird flu is mutating to spread from person to person, bringing a disastrous global pandemic closer, experts fear.

Evidence from South-east Asia suggests that the virus, which could kill tens of millions of people worldwide, is becoming less virulent, but at the same time more infectious to people.

Death rates from the virus have plunged in northern Vietnam, says the World Health Organisation (WHO), though it is still killing more of its victims than any previous outbreak. The instances where it appears to have spread from person to person are rising.

Six weeks ago, The Independent on Sunday revealed that the Government had told mortuaries and emergency services to prepare for up to 750,000 deaths from the disease in Britain. Flu pandemics occur when three developments take place: a virus emerges to which humans have little or no immunity; it is able to infect people; and it mutates to spread efficiently among them.

The bird flu virus - codenamed H5NI - has crossed the first two barriers, and experts fear it is now about to breach the third.

"It's a very different virus that might suddenly become extremely transmissible," said Peter Horby, of the WHO office in Hanoi.

He said that it was impossible to predict when that might happen, but there were "a number of indications" that the virus was already becoming more dangerous.

Ironically, one of the main ones is that the virus is becoming a less ruthless killer. By allowing more of its victims to survive, it enables them to live to infect other people.

Up to now about 70 per cent of those infected have died. But the WHO reports that the death rate in northern Vietnam has fallen to 20 per cent, though it has remained the same in the south of the country.

Even the reduced level would make it by far the worst flu pandemic ever to hit the world. "Spanish flu", which killed 40 million people in 1918, had a mortality rate of just 5 per cent.

A second ominous indication is that the flu has been widening its targets in northern Vietnam. Previously it mainly attacked children and young adults, but now it is affecting all age groups.

Third, while almost all previous victims have been infected directly by chickens or ducks, there is a steadily increasing number of clusters of disease, where it appears to have spread between people. There are now at least seven of these, almost all in the northern province of Haiphong. WHO officials say this is unprecedented.

Finally, the virus itself seems to have changed physically. Vietnamese health experts say that it has evolved in the north of the country by dropping an amino acid.

The US government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has analysed many of specimens of the virus from Vietnam, adds that new strains of it "are becoming more capable of causing disease for mammals".

Both it and the WHO stress that there is no conclusive proof yet that the virus is spreading efficiently between people. But scientists are agreed that it is only a matter of time before it does and that then jet travel will spread it rapidly around the globe.


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

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