Italian consumer groups demand more poultry farm inspections
Italian consumer groups called on the government on Sunday to step up anti-bird flu measures, saying that only a small percentage of poultry farms in southern Italy were being inspected.
"We want more inspections across the country, so that possible outbreaks of bird flu can be avoided," the associations said.
They insisted that private poultry farms in particular were not being adequately monitored.
"In the south, only 10 percent of these farms have been inspected by the competent authorities," the consumer groups said.
Italy has begun inspecting poultry farms and testing captured migratory birds amid fears over the spread of a deadly strain of bird flu known as H5N1.
The Italian Health Ministry said last week that no trace of bird flu had shown up in tests on almost 600 migratory birds.
Concern over bird flu increased in Europe this month after H5N1 spread to European Russia, Turkey, Croatia and Romania through migratory birds.
Italy has banned imports of live poultry, game birds and poultry products from Croatia, Romania and other Balkan states.
Meanwhile, Italian farmers have been staging protests over the fall in poultry sales, saying the industry had been "brought to its knees" by the bird flu scare.
This weekend, poultry farmers took to the streets of a number of cities to encourage consumers to put chicken and eggs back on their shopping lists.
The farmers' association CIA said that chicken consumption has plunged 60 percent since the bird flu crisis began while prices have fallen 55 percent.
It said that 20 percent of Italy's 6,150 poultry farmers risk going bust and that thousands of people could lose their jobs in an industry that employs more than 80,000.
Vietnam culls more poultry after birds die en masse
Authorities in a northern Vietnamese province culled 400 poultry over the weekend after about 800 birds from 20 backyard farms died en masse, an official said Monday.
Hoang Dang Nguyen, director of the animal health department in Bac Giang province, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Hanoi, said the poultry were culled even though the dead birds tested negative for the H5N1 strain of bird flu.
"When we have that large a number of birds dying suddenly, we treat it like a bird flu outbreak," he said. "It's better to cull than risk the danger of the bird flu virus spreading further."
Animal health workers have disinfected the farms and no birds have fallen ill or died since Sunday, he said.
Vietnam reported its most recent bird flu outbreak among poultry in early October, when about 600 birds died or were culled in the southern Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap.
Bird flu has ravaged poultry farms in Asia since late 2003, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 million birds. It has also jumped to humans, killing more than 60 people in the region, mostly in Vietnam.
Most of the human cases have been traced to contact with sick birds, but health officials warn that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that is easily passed from human to human, possibly triggering a global pandemic.
Bird flu detected in Canada birds
Canada says it has discovered a strain of bird flu among healthy wild birds in the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba.
An official said it would take a number of days to determine whether the birds are carrying the strain of the avian flu that is lethal to humans.
He said evidence suggested the birds were not infected with the same virus that has affected birds in Asia.
The H5N1 strain has killed more than 60 people in South East Asia since 2003, most of them in Vietnam and Thailand.
Thirty-three ducks in Canada tested positive for the virus, among thousands of healthy animals tested across the country.
"These findings do not indicate that we are dealing with a virus strain capable of causing significant illness," Jim Clark of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said.
"It's important to clarify that the avian influenza virus is not new to wild birds," he added.
Tens of millions of birds have been destroyed around the world since the deadly strain of the virus was first detected in 2003.
The disease has also been detected in birds in Russia, Croatia, Turkey and Romania.
While more than 60 people have died of the virus, there is only one suspected case of the disease being passed from human to human.
Thailand launched crackdown on smuggled bird flu vaccines
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand has launched a crackdown on smuggled bird flu vaccines at border check points nationwide.
A national committee on avian flu prohibits use of any bird fluvaccine on chickens or ducks because the treated poultry will not die, but remain as carriers for the potentially deadly virus.
Members of the public are asked to call the FDA's hot line 1556 to give tip-offs about contraband vaccine 24 hours a day, while smuggling suspects themselves may face up to five-year jail terms.
Deputy Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was quoted by the Thai News Agency as saying on Monday that about 1,500 bottles of bird flu vaccine had been seized, mostly at the Chiang Saen border check point in Chiang Rai Province so far this year.
One bottle of vaccine could be used for about 650 chickens, while the total of seized contraband could have served almost one million chickens.
Meanwhile, more than 14,000 chickens were found to have contracted bird flu, more than 11,500 of which were already culledand buried, said Anutin.
He assured the public that all 725 community-based health units of the Public Health Ministry could readily contain bird flu pandemic around the clock and that each unit is also stocked with 20 tablets of Tamilflu anti-virus medicine.
Much more Tamilful is available at provincial hospitals and provincial offices of the ministry.
Villagers are requested to alert health officials, health care volunteers, local leaders and livestock officials should their household poultry die.
Persons having a fever or cough after they have contact with infected chickens are advised to see a doctor within 48 hours.
FDA's Deputy Secretary General Manit Arunakul said his agency has opened 25 border check points, and 36 more check points will be opened nationwide next year.
China poultry markets hit by bird flu scare
Poultry markets in major Chinese cities have seen business decline steeply after a week in which the nation suddenly reported three new separate cases of bird flu, state media reported.
Slovakia orders farmers to keep poultry indoors
Slovakia ordered farmers on Friday to keep their poultry indoors after bird flu cases were found in Turkey and Romania this week, said reports from Bratislava.
Farmers must keep their poultry indoors and away from wild birds, and protect the fodder and water from pollution, according to the order issued by the state veterinary and food authority.
Where poultry are found eating and drinking 20 percent less than normal, laying 5 percent less eggs in two consecutive days, or suffering a a 3-percent increase in their death rate every week, farmers are ordered to report to the relevant authorities.
The regulation also requires newly purchased birds to undergo sterilization.
Moreover, the government has banned all live birds markets and exhibitions.
So far, no cases of bird flu have been found in the country
Drop in poultry sales as fears over bird flu grow
Measures are being taken across Europe to prevent the spread of bird flu as farmers face a drop in poultry sales with fear over the disease growing.
UN presses China for more details on bird flu scare
The World Health Organization (WHO) pressed China on Friday to provide information on a 12-year-old girl who Chinese officials say died of pneumonia, but who was initially suspected of contracting deadly bird flu.
"After SARS they know they should really provide timely information about what is going on," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.
China was accused in 2002 of covering up the extent of an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the south of the country, contributing to its eventual spread to 8,000 people around the world, 800 of whom died.
WHO officials say the H5N1 strain of bird flu is far more lethal than SARS. While SARS had a mortality rate of around 15 percent, H5N1, which has now spread from Asia to Europe, kills up to a third of people it infects.
Since last week China has revealed three outbreaks of the H5N1 virus that killed 3,800 chickens, ducks and geese.
But another WHO spokeswoman, Maria Cheng, said Chinese officials had as yet provided no information on the death of the 12-year-old girl on October 17 in southern Hunan province, the site of China's latest bird flu outbreak.
The girl's 9-year-old brother is reported to be in a stable condition in hospital, also with pneumonia.
"We need more clarification because both apparently had been exposed to sick chickens," Cheng said.
Some Chinese media reports have said the girl's body was cremated and it was unclear what samples were taken, Cheng said.
A Chinese Health Ministry official, Chen Xianyi, told reporters the girl and her brother had contracted pneumonia. "There have been no cases of human infection of H5N1," he said.
China has reported no human bird flu infections since the latest H5N1 outbreak first surfaced in Asia in late 2003. Since then, 62 people have died in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia and the virus has spread to Europe's eastern border.
Farmers in China, as in many parts of Asia, live alongside their poultry and other livestock, increasing the chances of the disease spreading to humans, experts say. It also raises the chance of the virus mutating into a form that could spread easily among people, triggering a pandemic. Millions could die.
CALMING PANIC IN EUROPE
WHO on Friday issued its first public risk assessment of the consequences of bird flu spreading to Africa, warning that the virus would push "fragile health systems close to the brink of collapse".
Migratory birds, believed to play a role in the transmission of H5N1 to domestic flocks, are heading south for Africa from Siberia, where outbreaks among poultry have occurred.
In Africa, as in parts of Asia, many households keep backyard flocks, which often mingle freely with wild birds or share play areas with children, WHO said.
"With few exceptions, notably in large commercial farms, surveillance for avian disease is non-existent," it said. "In Africa, the risk of human infection from an avian H5N1 virus can be expected to be similar to that seen in Asia."
Africa had a bird flu scare earlier this week when three tourists returning from Thailand to Reunion, a French island off Africa's east coast, were suspected of having contracted the disease. Tests for H5N1, however, came back negative.
Most human bird flu infections are due to handling birds sick with the virus or contact with their droppings. Cooked meat is not a known source of infection.
Nevertheless, chicken producers across Europe have reported falling sales. France said on Friday that poultry sales had dropped by 25 percent on average in the week to October 22 due to mounting fears over the spread of H5N1.
Italian poultry farmers have already said that a "mass psychosis" based on unjustified fears about consuming poultry products has brought their industry close to collapse.
"It's the consumers who are panicking, the farmers worry," the European Commission's Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told Reuters in Lithuania.
"Look at me, I eat eggs and chicken. The possibility of being infected through food is very limited, non-existent, (because) we have such high food hygiene measures in the European Union," he said.
H5N1 has been found among birds in Croatia, Romania, Turkey and Russia, but no human cases have been found so far in Europe.
Russia said new bird flu outbreaks had been registered in three regions already hit by the virus -- the Tambov region, 400 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of Moscow, in Omsk region in eastern Siberia and Kurgan in southern Urals.
The statement did not identify the strain of the virus.
Bird flu drugmaker halts US supplies
Drug maker Roche halted supplies of its antiviral drug to the United States to head off hoarding by consumers fearing bird flu, as another firm, and Vietnam, said they were preparing to make their own medicines.
Tests on the latest suspected human cases of the disease produced negative results on Thursday, but fear remained high that bird flu was spreading around the world among wild birds and poultry and threatened to produce a human pandemic.
Roche Holding AG said it had halted deliveries of Tamiflu to pharmacists in the United States and Canada until the start of the flu season.
Media coverage of the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has driven sales higher, the company said.
"This resulted in increased demand for Tamiflu in part from individuals who are doing private stockpiling and at the moment there is no influenza circulating and the threat of a pandemic has not (materialised)," a spokeswoman said.
"Our priority is to ensure that Tamiflu is available for seasonal use and to fulfil government orders," she added.
GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Europe's biggest drug maker, said on Thursday it was building capacity and converting more factories to make a pandemic flu vaccine, as it develops a prototype shot to counter the H5N1 bird flu virus.
It also plans to increase output of the anti-flu drug Relenza and is offering free licences to partners able to produce the inhaled treatment. Relenza, like Roche's Tamiflu, is not a cure but reduces the severity of influenza.
Roche is the only manufacturer of Tamiflu, considered the first line of defence against the H5N1 avian flu virus that some fear could spark an outbreak among humans if it mutates to allow human-to-human transmission. The drug can reduce the severity of influenza and may slow the spread of a pandemic.
Under pressure from generic drug companies, developing nations and the United States, Roche agreed this month to discuss granting licences to others to make versions of Tamiflu.
Experts say the feared mutation of the virus is most likely to take place in Southeast Asia, where millions of birds have been slaughtered in an attempt to limit its spread.
Cao Minh Quang, head of Vietnam's Pharmaceutical Control Department, said the government had proposed to Roche that it franchise Tamiflu production to Vietnam, where bird flu has killed 41 people.
"But in the situation of a pandemic, we will start the production without permission," Quang said.
He cited a World Health Organisation forecast as saying 10 percent of Vietnam's 82 million people could contract the disease in a pandemic.
France said on Thursday tests on one of three tourists suspected of catching H5N1 bird flu in a Thai bird park showed he was not infected.
China said a girl in a village in Hunan province, where there had been an outbreak among birds, did not die of bird flu, as feared, but pneumonia.
H5N1 has killed more than 60 people in four countries in Asia and been found among birds in Croatia, Romania, Turkey and Russia, but no human cases have been reported in Europe.
There is no evidence yet that the disease can be transmitted easily among humans, but experts fear it is only a matter of time. China, with its huge numbers of both humans and poultry, often living close together, is seen as a major area of risk.
China says it has brought under control outbreaks among birds in Inner Mongolia in the north and Anhui province in the east, employing massive culling of birds, quarantines, and vaccinations of residents in affected areas.
But the World Health Organisation's China representative said China would probably see more outbreaks.
"In the winter, the virus can survive longer outside its own host ... so we expect more cases, especially in this part of the world," Henk Bekedam told Reuters.
Bekedam added that in Europe, the virus could still be eliminated, but Asia's best hope was that it would be contained.
Authorities around the world are nervously monitoring borders, testing arriving wild birds and clamping down on the import and movement of birds and poultry.
South Pacific leaders ended a two-day summit in Port Moresby on Thursday with a plan to pool resources to combat bird flu.
WHO's representative in Sri Lanka said birds migrating from Russia, where the virus has already killed wildfowl, could carry it to Sri Lanka and to India.
"The virus seems to be becoming increasingly aggressive and pathogenic," said Agostino Borra. "More types of wild and domestic birds are becoming infected."
The Asian Development Bank says even a mild pandemic could cost Asia up to $110 billion (62 billion pounds), aside from the cost in lives.
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned however that blanket bans on poultry imports introduced by some countries were unnecessary and destructive to world trade.
French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand cautioned against any "dramatisation" of the situation. "What we are talking about today in Europe, is about the risk of a disease, of a virus that affects animals," he said.
Ailing French Tourist Tests Negative for Bird Flu
France announced Thursday that a French tourist suspected of contracting bird flu in Thailand has tested negative. The government is still awaiting results for two others who may also have contracted the deadly virus.
The French health ministry said in a statement that further blood tests of a bird flu suspect by the Pasteur Institute in Paris came out negative. It said the 43-year-old man has another type of flu, and his health is improving. The results of tests for two other suspect cases are expected to be announced on Friday. All three were part of a tour group that had visited Thailand recently.
The Thai government has adamantly denied chances the French tourists could have contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.
If these tourists had contracted bird flu in Thailand, this would would be extremely worrying, health specialist Jean-Francois Le Moine told France Info radio Thursday.
Mr. Le Moine said the French tour group in Thailand consisted of less than two dozen people, so if three of them have acquired the virus, that would be a very high percentage. It would mean that the world community would have to drastically reduce its contact with Asia. But Mr. Le Moine said, based on information available to date, he doubted the French tourists had acquired bird flu.
Still, bird flu is a very real threat to Europe. Cases of birds carrying the virus have already been detected in several European countries, and Germany, Slovenia, Hungary and France, among others, are testing dead birds for signs of the virus.
The European Union is discussing ways to combat the advent of bird flu in the 25-member bloc. Individual nations are taking their own preventative measures. France, for example, is now confining free-range poultry in regions where they are most exposed to migrating birds. And the government announced this week it had earmarked roughly $200 million in new funds to fight the virus.
The World Health Organization, WHO, is also hosting an international conference in Geneva early next month to discuss ways of preparing for, and preventing, the spread of bird flu among birds and humans.
Thai boy with bird flu has fully recovered
Public health officials have ruled out human-to-human transmission of bird flu in a seven-year-old boy whose father died of the disease last week, a senior Thai health official said Saturday, adding that the boy has fully recovered.
Ronarit Benphat no longer has a fever or lung infection, but doctors will monitor him for two more weeks, said Dr. Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general of the Department of Communicable Disease Control. "Because he's a positive H5N1 case, we probably have to quarantine him for the full 21 days, that is for two more weeks," Thawat said by telephone. "He's in good condition. His condition is normal now, like any other person."
The boy and his father became ill with the H5N1 strain of bird flu after handling their neighbours' sick chickens.
The 48-year-old man died last Wednesday, becoming Thailand's 13th human fatality from bird flu, and the first in more than a year. His son was admitted into the hospital Oct. 16 but officials said he didn't contract the disease from his father.
Thai public health officials "have concluded that this is not a human-to-human transmission," Thawat said.
Nineteen people in Thailand have been confirmed as being infected with the virus since it swept into the country in late 2003.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in his weekly radio address Saturday urged strict monitoring for bird flu and immediate reporting of sick chickens.
He said authorities are now monitoring for bird flu in 21 provinces that previously had outbreaks. New cases were found in four provinces, and authorities have culled fowl and sprayed chemicals in an attempt to eradicate the disease in those areas.
He urged villagers to take precautions such as wearing gloves when handling sick chickens.
"Cooked chickens are safe to eat, even if they had bird flu, but before they are cooked - when they are raw - that is when they are dangerous," Thaksin said. "Chicken farmers have to keep a close watch. If they see chickens that die, they have to report them immediately."
Thaksin said he would raise the issue of bird flu at a regional leaders' summit on economic cooperation in Bangkok in early November, and offer neighboring countries assistance to fight the disease.
Facts on the status of bird flu in Europe
The European Commission will decide by Tuesday on whether to ban imports of live wild birds as demanded by Britain after a parrot died in the country of bird flu.
The following are facts about the status of bird flu in Europe:
ROMANIA - Further tests are being carried out on a heron with bird flu antibodies found in Vaslui county. Romania has already confirmed the presence of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in its Danube delta region.
RUSSIA - Vets have found H5N1 strain of bird flu in the village of Sunaly in the Chelyabinsk region in southern Urals. Moscow confirmed on Oct. 19 an outbreak of H5N1 in the Tula region, 200 km (125 miles) south of Moscow.
TURKEY - EU said on Oct. 13 Turkey had bird flu type dangerous to humans, the avian flu H5N1 high pathogenic virus.
BRITAIN - A parrot that died in quarantine in Britain has been found to have the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, the agriculture ministry said on Sunday. London had already called for blanket EU ban on imports of wild live birds from anywhere in the world.
FRANCE - Stepped up checks at airports and was building stockpiles of vaccines and treatments. Plans to use a red, white and blue chicken logo on home-reared poultry to reassure consumers.
BULGARIA - Banned imports of live birds and poultry products from Turkey, Greece and Romania and stepped up checks at borders and poultry farms.
GERMANY - Confined all poultry to their pens.
CZECH REPUBLIC - Banned all poultry and bird exhibitions and carrier pigeon contests.
GREECE - A case of bird flu was detected in the Aegean island of Chios. Greece has banned poultry exports from the island and awaiting test results on the strain.
MACEDONIA - Sent a dead chicken on Friday for tests in London.
ITALY - Detected a low risk H5N2 avian flu virus in April 2005 and destroyed at least 180,000 turkeys.
SWEDEN - Detected bird flu in a dead duck west of Stockhom and advised farmers to keep birds indoors.
CROATIA - Authorities banned exports to EU countries on finding the H5 avian flu virus in wild dead swans at a fish pond in the east of the country.
Dead duck in Sweden carried bird flu
A duck that died in Sweden was carrying the bird flu but it cannot yet be determined whether the animal perished from the strain that can kill humans, veterinary officials said yesterday.
Human bird flu cases confirmed in Thailand, Indonesia
One new case of human infection with bird flu was confirmed in Thailand and two additional cases were confirmed in Indonesia, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday.
The patient in Thailand is a 7-year-old boy who developed symptoms on Oct. 16 and was hospitalized on Oct. 19, the WHO said in a statement, adding that the boy is recovering.
The boy is the son of a confirmed case who died on Oct. 19. These are the first two confirmed cases in Thailand in a year. Since the start of the outbreaks in Asia, Thailand has confirmed 19 cases, of which 13 have been fatal.
The Ministry of Health in Indonesia confirmed two additional cases of human infection with H5N1 bird flu virus, the WHO added.
The first newly confirmed case is a four-year-old boy from Sumatra Island in Lampung Province. He developed symptoms on Oct. 4, was hospitalized, recovered fully, and has returned home. He is the nephew of the 21-year-old man from Lampung, who was reported on Oct.10.
Although the two cases are related and lived in the same neighborhood, the UN health agency said human-to-human transmission is considered unlikely.
The second newly confirmed case in Indonesia was a 23-year-old man from Bogor, West Java. He was hospitalized on Sept. 28 and died on Sept. 30.
Epidemiological investigations uncovered exposure to infected poultry as the likely source of infection in both cases, said the WHO.
To date, Indonesia has reported 7 human cases of H5N1 bird flu, and four of the cases were fatal.
Germany to confine poultry over bird flu fears
Germany is to confine all poultry to their pens to prevent birds from coming in contact with the deadly avian flu virus H5N1, whose appearance in Russia poses a new risk, the agriculture minister said on Wednesday.
The close proximity of the virus, which Russian officials confirmed had been detected 220 km (140 miles) south of Moscow, is the reason the German government decided to impose the restriction, he said.
"With the appearance of this virus in Russia south of Moscow, we had to re-evaluate the risk," Environment and Agriculture Minister Juergen Trittin told Reuters in an interview after a news conference.
"This regulation will be in effect until December 15, the expected end of the bird migration, and it is effective immediately," he said.
A state agriculture ministry spokeswoman had said earlier that the regulation would not take effect until Saturday.
The restrictions are intended to stop farm birds from coming into contact with migrating birds, which are said to be spreading the disease.
On Tuesday, German federal and state experts rejected calls from some states and local farming associations for a national ban on keeping poultry outdoors. Instead, bans were to be issued for farms in areas with a high risk of contact with migrating birds.
Calls for a national ban came after tests showed the lethal strain of bird flu found in Turkey and Asia had also infected ducks in Romania, confirming the virus has reached mainland Europe.
Britain throws cash at bird flu vaccine-makers
BRITAIN'S Department of Health is to offer vaccine manufacturers multi-million-pound "sleeping contracts" - unprecedented cash advances to help them to prepare for the arrival of a bird flu pandemic - to ensure there is enough vaccine for up to 60 million people.
A Thai farmer died from bird flu yesterday after contact with infected poultry, taking the kingdom's death toll from the virus to 13. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said: "The guy was infected with bird flu because he took a sick chicken, slaughtered it and then ate it."
Russia had already said it had bird flu in Siberia and eastern Russia. But Wednesday's announcement marked the first time the virus had spread west of the Ural mountains, which separate Asian from European Russia.
Health ministers from the 25-nation European Union gathered in London overnight for a two-day meeting dominated by the fear of bird flu sweeping through the continent.
The European Commission said risks of a human influenza pandemic were growing and had advised member states to stockpile anti-viral drugs. Sixteen EU states have placed orders.
In Germany, authorities announced nationwide poultry quarantine measures would come into force from Saturday in response to the Russian outbreak. Germany said it would confine all live poultry to their pens to prevent them from coming into contact with migrating birds, believed by some to be carrying the virus from Asia.
EU foreign ministers have declared bird flu a "global threat". But yesterday, the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control sought to calm fears.
"For the time being there is no reason to panic in Europe," Zsuzsanna Jakab, head of the centre, told a news conference.
"The risk for citizens to have this virus is minimal."
Britain's chief medical officer Liam Donaldson said the "sleeping contracts" should speed the production of a vaccine significantly, helping to protect the population against a second or third wave of flu.
He said the arrangement would put the country "at the front of the queue" for mass inoculation, with 120 million doses - the equivalent of two per person - needed to cover the British population.
It is widely accepted that the most likely route of a pandemic will be when avian flu in birds mutates into a form that is easily spread from person to person. "We cannot prevent a flu pandemic, but we can reduce its impact," Sir Liam said.
"One of the most effective counter-measures we can take against a flu pandemic is to make sure we develop and manufacture a vaccine as quickly as possible."
Since 2003, about 120 people worldwide have had the H5N1 strain diagnosed, and 60 have died. Bird flu has also been confirmed in Greece, but it is not yet known if this is the dangerous H5N1 strain.
Sir Liam also warned that the annual seasonal flu vaccine would not be effective against any new flu virus.
Macedonia culls thousands of poultry amid bird flu fears
Macedonia began to destroy thousands of domestic fowl amid fears that a strain of the bird flu virus that is deadly to humans had spread from nearby countries.
Vietnam to reestablish poultry checkpoints
Vietnam is going to reestablish fowlquarantine checkpoints along main roads to localities and at border areas, local newspaper Saigon Liberation on Wednesday quoted a deputy prime minister as saying.
Facing the high risk of bird flu relapse this winter, Vietnam will set up the checkpoints to monitor the transport of poultry, and accelerate vaccination among fowls, and disinfection of farms and nearby residential areas, said Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has recently urged the localities of Hanoi, Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Duong, Ha Long, Thanh Hoa, Vinh, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Bien Hoaand Can Tho to enforce the ban on raising, trading and slaughtering in their inner areas, he said, noting that if any city or province fails to do this, the chairperson of the locality's People's Committee may be disciplined.
The National Anti-bird flu Steering Committee has demanded poultry farms and live fowl markets to conduct overall detoxification and disinfection one or twice a week. It has also advised residents not to raise poultry near their accommodations or let them move freely everywhere, Dung noted.
Vietnam is importing more vaccines from China to vaccinate some100 million fowls nationwide next month. To date, 32 out of 64 cities and provinces have vaccinated more than 50 million poultry.
According to the ministry, Vietnam has detected 22 bird flu outbreaks in 10 provinces since April, which have killed and led to the forced culling of nearly 14,400 fowls. In case of large outbreaks among poultry and people, Vietnam will announce emergency state, ban the trade of fowls and cattle, cull all poultry in the affected areas, and isolate them for three weeks, the deputy prime minister stated.
In case of large number of people being infected with bird flu due to human-to-human transmission, Vietnam will mobilize educational establishments and public buildings for treatment. Thecountry, which is upgrading healthcare facilities designated for treatment of bird flu patients, plans to put two international-standard labs into operation early next year.
Up to 91 Vietnamese people have been infected with bird flu since the disease started to break out in the country in late 2003.Of them 41 have died.
WHO says in talks with Swiss firm on bird flu drug
The World Health Organization (WHO) is in talks with Swiss firm Roche about boosting output of anti-influenza drug Tamiflu, seen as a first line of defense against bird flu, a top official said on Monday.
The Swiss firm has already announced plans to double production this year, and again in 2006, as governments follow WHO advice and place bulk orders for stockpiles.
But Mike Ryan, WHO director for epidemic and pandemic alert, said supplies were clearly insufficient to face up to a potential bird flu pandemic if the steadily spreading avian virus jumps to humans.
"We are looking with that manufacturer at all kinds of issues about how production can be scaled up, licensing arrangements and other issues," he told journalists in a teleconference.
"We believe that there is a public health need to look at this issue ... We will be looking even more intensely at that in coming days," he added, without giving details.
Roche spokesmen could not immediately be contacted. But the pharmaceuticals firm has said it is doing its utmost to increase output of the drug, for which demand is expected to soar in Europe following confirmation of bird flu amongst fowl in Romania and Turkey.
Tamiflu is the most effective anti-viral drug currently available for avian flu, and governments are rushing to buy stocks amid fears a virus that has already claimed more than 60 lives in Asia could mutate and become even deadlier.
The Swiss firm says it has outsourced some of the phases in the production process, which can take two years.
But it refuses to relinquish its patent rights over the drug to make it cheaper for others to manufacture.
"Roche and its partners fully intend to remain the only manufacturer of Tamiflu and are best qualified to scale up production," spokesman Daniel Piller said on Friday.
Nevertheless, Indian drugmaker Cipla has said it plans to make a generic version of the medicine for sale in developing countries.
Gril has drug resistant case of bird flu
The bird flu virus that infected a Vietnamese girl was resistant to the main drug that's being stockpiled in case of a pandemic, a sign that it's important to keep a second drug on hand as well, a researcher said Friday.
He said the finding was no reason to panic.
The drug in question, Tamiflu, still attacks "the vast majority of the viruses out there," said Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Tokyo and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The drug, produced by Swiss-based Roche Holding AG, is in short supply as nations around the world try to stock up on it in case of a global flu pandemic.
Kawaoka said the case of resistance in the 14-year-old girl is "only one case, and whether that condition was something unique we don't know."
He also said it's not surprising to see some resistance to Tamiflu in treated individuals, because resistance has also been seen with human flu.
In lab tests, the girl's Tamiflu-resistant virus was susceptible to another drug, Relenza, which is made by GlaxoSmithKline.
Kawaoka and colleagues report the case in the Oct. 20 issue of the journal Nature, which released the study Friday. The researchers conclude that it might be useful to stockpile Relenza as well as Tamiflu.
Both drugs are being stockpiled by the U.S. government. Doctors have good reason to believe Tamiflu would be effective at combatting a pandemic strain of bird flu, although it's not clear how long people would have to be treated or what doses they'd need, said Dr. John Treanor of the University of Rochester.
In adults with mild cases of ordinary flu, Tamiflu speeds up recovery by a day or two, he said. Its effect on severe flu like bird flu isn't clear, he said.
The new report, while not surprising, shows scientists must find out more about how people with bird flu respond to Tamiflu and how often they shed drug-resistant virus, he said.
The shed virus could become a problem if it is transmitted to other people, he said. He noted that in the new report, as in prior studies, the resistant virus was less able to reproduce itself than normal virus was, which might cut down on the chance of transmission.
Tests confirm deadly bird flu strain in Romania
Lab tests detected the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in samples from Romanian ducks on Saturday, confirming the virus had arrived for the first time in mainland Europe.
Romania's veterinary authority said a British laboratory had found three birds found dead in Romania's Danube delta last week contained the strain, which has killed more than 60 people and caused the death of millions of birds in Asia since 2003.
"We have received telephone confirmation from London that it is the H5N1 virus," Alina Monea, spokeswoman at Romania's veterinary and animal health authority, told Reuters.
A European Commission spokesman in Brussels said: "We are waiting for the results which are supposed to be coming from Britain at about 1 p.m (12 p.m. British time) (Saturday).
"I cannot confirm or deny (the report) but the Commission was acting with the presumption that it would be this more dangerous type and took all the preventative measures," the spokesman, Robert Soltyk, said.
Turkey reported an outbreak of the deadly strain earlier this week and Bulgaria, Romania's southern Black Sea neighbour, has stepped up controls to guard against a similar outbreak.
Experts fear H5N1 could mutate into a virus that spreads easily among humans, creating a pandemic that might kill tens of millions. Romania has not reported any cases of bird flu so far in humans.
The Danube delta contains Europe's largest wetlands and is a major way station for migratory wild birds coming from Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany and heading for warmer North Africa, including the Nile delta, for winter.
"People must pay attention to our recommendations and they have to be calm, because we have the situation under control," Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Fultur told journalists.
Officials have sealed off the affected area and vaccinated the population against regular flu to boost their immunity.
Television footage showed masked and gloved veterinarians gassing poultry, burning their carcasses and disinfecting farms in the Danube delta village of Ceamurlia de Jos on Saturday.
Romanian authorities have culled 18,000 domestic birds so far in the village this week and said 45,000 birds in the area would have to be killed to prevent the disease from spreading.
"We are now thoroughly checking the entire village with veterinarian experts," Ceamurlia de Jos Mayor Mihai Carciumaru told Reuters. "We are gathering all the faeces from birds and will burn it."
"People have all been vaccinated and we have advised the population to alert us if they experience any symptoms."
On Friday, officials isolated the bird flu virus in two more birds -- a hen and a swan -- in Maliuc, a village 40 km (25 miles) north of Ceamurlia de Jos where the first outbreak occurred.
Romania's government has asked the Swiss drug company Roche Holding AG to provide 45,000 doses of the Tamiflu antiviral drug as a precautionary move to fight a possible spread to humans.
EU mulls ban on poultry being outdoors in bird-flu risk areas
EU veterinary experts are considering requiring poultry to be kept indoors in areas thought to be the most at risk of a spread of bird flu, the European Commission said.
Weak-link Laos gets U.S. funds for bird flu fight
The United States will give Laos $3.4 million to fight deadly bird flu, including money for rapid-response teams to swoop on new outbreaks in the impoverished, jungle-clad country.
Details of the funding for the Communist-ruled country – a weak link in Asia's fight against the virus which has killed more than 60 people since late 2003 – were announced during a visit by U.S. Health Secretary Mike Leavitt. Leavitt is leading U.S. and U.N. health experts on a fact-finding mission in the region seen as the potential spark for a global human pandemic which could kill millions of people.The World Health Organisation has said that bird flu, which swept through parts of Asia in late 2003 and has spread since to Russia and Europe, is moving towards a form that could pass between humans.
But the WHO says only 40 of its 192 member countries have drawn up pandemic preparedness plans.
Some of the U.S. funds will go to develop a pandemic plan for Laos, a landlocked country where most of the 5.6 million people live in remote rural areas.
Up to 100 rapid response teams would be trained and equipped to 'institute emergency control measures in the event of an outbreak', the U.S. embassy in Laos said in a statement.
Leavitt, who earlier visited Thailand and Cambodia, has urged Vietnam, where the bulk of the human deaths – 41 – have occurred, to step up surveillance so any potential pandemic is snuffed out early.
'It's a function of having people trained to recognise the signs so that if it happens in a remote village in Laos or in Vietnam, or it happens in the United States for the first time, we are able to see it and respond to it quickly,' he told CNN.
HELP FOR VIETNAM
Cambodia, where 4 people have died from bird flu, received $1.85 million in U.S. money to bolster its surveillance.
Laos has reported no human infections, but it found bird flu among poultry in 2003, the WHO said.
Experts fear a human outbreak in Laos and Cambodia – where basic health care barely exists outside urban areas – would not be detected until it is too late.
'We have 21 days to get in there and treat people with (anti viral medication) Tamiflu and after that you might as well throw it away. That's why surveillance is important,' WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley said.
The U.S. funding is part of a $25 million package to help the region fight bird flu.
There was also help for Vietnam on Thursday from the United Nations.
U.N. representatives and Vietnamese officials agreed on a joint programme aimed at strengthening the management of public health emergencies and improving coordination between Vietnam and the international community.
'Our objective is simple: control and eradicate HPAI in domestic poultry,' Jordan Ryan, the U.N. Resident Coordinator in Vietnam said in a statement, referring to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
The agreement would also 'help Vietnam prepare for, respond to and recover from public health emergencies such as HPAI,' he said.
The statement said Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai had decided to spend $7 million for immediate action to combat bird flu.
EU regulator will fast-track bird flu vaccines
Europe's drug regulator said on Thursday it could approve within days any effective vaccine against bird flu in humans under new fast-track procedures. The European Medicines Agency's new approach is based on the concept of "core dossiers", allowing information to be submitted to a committee of experts in advance of a vaccine having completed full development. "Once the specific strain of the influenza virus is known, the committee could approve a variation to this core dossier, following a "rolling review", within a few days," the London-based agency said in a statement. Experts do not know what the genetic makeup of any eventual pandemic strain of bird flu will be, so manufacturers cannot finalise their vaccine development plans just yet. But by providing a core dossier of information about their planned vaccines, the review process should be accelerated considerably. Healthcare experts have warned that time will be extremely short if, or when, bird flu starts to spread easily between humans, since it could take six months to manufacture adequate vaccine stocks. Outbreaks of bird flu at the weekend in Romania and Turkey have triggered fears that the highly contagious disease could advance into Europe. Several drug companies are working to develop a vaccine that may be effective against pandemic flu, among them the leading makers of shots against normal seasonal flu, including Sanofi-Aventis SA <SASY.PA>, GlaxoSmithKline Plc <GSK.L> and Chiron Corp <CHIR.O>.
Turkey completes mass poultry cull to combat bird fluTurkish officials said they had completed the mass slaughter of poultry to combat a bird flu outbreak in this northwestern village, although the area remains quarantined.
'The mass slaughter of animals is complete,' agriculture ministry spokesman Faruk Demirel said, adding that small-scale slaughter was continuing on some farms.
The governor's office in Balikesir province, where Kiziksa is located, said vets had so far slaughtered 5,691 animals -- turkeys, chicken, ducks, geese and pigeons -- in a three-kilometre quarantine zone around a turkey farm where the first bird flu case was confirmed at the weekend.
While avian influenza primarily affects birds, one strain of the virus known as H5N1 has killed more than 60 people in Southeast Asia since 2003.
Scientists have warned that millions of people around the world could die if that virulent form of the virus crosses with human flu strains to become highly contagious among people.
Turkish experts say samples from infected animals in this area have tested positive for the H5 virus, but it was not yet known whether it was the highly H5N1 strain.
If it is the H5N1 strain, it would take the virus to the frontiers of the European Union as well as threaten the Middle East.
A specialist laboratory in Britain is also testing the samples and will have an answer within days, according to the British agriculture ministry.
Demir Kunter, the head of Turkey's poultry producers' assocation, said that sales had dropped by 40 pct in the country's biggest city, Istanbul, since the outbreak.
EU bans Turkish bird imports after avian flu outbreak
The European Commission banned all imports of live birds and feathers from Turkey into the 25-nation EU on Monday after Ankara confirmed an outbreak of the highly contagious avian influenza.
But Turkish experts battling the disease played down fears of the kind of epidemic caused by the H5N1 virus, which has killed millions of birds and 65 people in Asia since 2003.
The H5N1 virus is the most deadly of a number of known versions of bird flu.
The Commission said it was taking no steps at the moment over a suspected outbreak of bird flu in Romania.
EU veterinary officers from the 25-nation bloc will meet in Brussels on Wednesday when the results of bird flu tests in Romania and Turkey should be known. They can decide further trade restrictions and tougher EU action.
"We do not know yet whether this (bird flu in Turkey) is the same virulent virus that has caused such widespread destruction in Asia," EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said in a statement.
"We have offered assistance to Turkey and the measures we have taken against imports will be reviewed in the coming days, when we have the final test results."
Turkey has so far culled about 3,000 turkeys and chickens after reporting its first outbreak of avian flu at a farm in the district of Manyas, near the Aegean and Marmara Seas.
It has clamped a 3-km (2-mile) quarantine zone around the farm, where 1,870 turkeys died of the disease last week. Teams of veterinary experts in white overalls and gloves are hurriedly burying the slaughtered birds in lime-drenched pits.
"The precautionary measures are continuing but this outbreak of disease is not an epidemic. It is not spreading at the moment," veterinary surgeon Arif Zorlu told Reuters.
"To prevent any spread, our technical team in the area is killing poultry and we will continue doing so for 21 days to avert the possibility of an epidemic," he said, adding the slaughtered birds had not shown any symptoms of illness.
Government spokesman Cemil Cicek said there were no reports of any other outbreaks of the disease in Turkey and he pledged state compensation for farmers affected by the cull.
"There is no need for concern," he told a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting at which bird flu was discussed.
ROMANIAN BIRD DEATHS
Romania was also conducting a widespread cull after detecting an outbreak in the Danube delta.
Private television station Realitatea TV reported dozens of birds, including swans and poultry, had been found dead in the village of Maliuc in the delta on Monday.
Quarantine orders were imposed on seven affected Romanian villages, hunting was banned in the delta and the agriculture minister said the country would cull about 45,000 birds.
He said scientists there had ruled out avian flu in some of the stricken birds found and were trying to isolate the virus in others to discover which strain they were infected with.
Bulgaria, sandwiched between Turkey and Romania, announced a ban on imports of poultry and poultry products from its Black Sea neighbors on Monday. Ukraine, Croatia, Bosnia and Switzerland followed suit.
Earlier, Hungary had announced a ban on Romanian poultry products and Greece banned imports from Romania and Turkey. Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary also toughened border checks.
Turkey's Poultry Producers and Breeders Association said samples of the dead birds had been sent to a specialist laboratory in Britain to identify the strain of the virus, and the results should be known within a week.
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has killed millions of birds across Asia and infected 116 people, killing more than 60 of them. Scientists fear the virus, known to pass to humans from birds, could mutate and be passed among humans.
Turkish producers said the outbreak could be costly.
"This is a big blow to Turkey's poultry exports and could also hurt domestic sales," said Yuce Canoler of the Turkish Poultry Producers and Breeders Association.
A Turkish ornithologist told Reuters it was "99 percent certain" the Manyas outbreak was caused by migrating birds.
"Manyas is an important destination for migrating birds. I think the bird flu came by this route, so migration has to be closely monitored in Turkey," said Mehmet Deli.
Romania's Danube delta contains Europe's largest wetlands and is also a major migratory area for wild birds coming from Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany.
Romanian ornithologists said they expected hundreds of thousands of migratory birds to arrive in the next two months.
Myanmar: the world's bird flu black hole?
With big chunks of its territory in rebel hands and a military government shrouded in riddles, mystery and enigma, Myanmar presents the global fight against bird flu with a unique set of problems.
Officially, the H5N1 avian influenza strain that has killed millions of birds and scores of people across Asia since late 2003 has not landed in the former Burma, even though neighbouring China, Thailand and Laos have all had outbreaks.
However, given the dearth of reliable information that comes out of Yangon, as well as the junta's dubious track record with the truth, many international observers are worried about a cover-up of potentially global significance.
The fear is that the virus will infect birds in Myanmar then -- either through a cover-up or a lack of monitoring in remote or rebel-run areas -- will remain undetected for long enough to mutate, "go human" and unleash a killer flu pandemic on the world.
"Would they admit to it if it was here? That's the big question, since they deny everything left, right and center," said one Yangon-based diplomat.
Another said some of the ruling generals appeared to have grasped the seriousness of the threat, but given the dire lack of infrastructure -- annual health spending amounts to a few dollars per person -- doubted whether anything could or would be done.
"I think there's an assumption that if it isn't already, then it will be a problem here, but you're lacking capacity and you're lacking will," the second diplomat said.
Myanmar is spurned by most of the international community due to its human rights record and detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, but where bird flu is concerned, sanctions, isolation and strong rhetoric are in nobody's interest.
Bringing that problem into focus is this week's "front line" bird flu trip by U.S. Health Secretary Michael Leavitt, who is going to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam -- but not Myanmar, which Washington has branded an "outpost of tyranny".
Officials at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) treat Myanmar's assurances it has never had bird flu with a degree of skepticism, especially since it is situated on the path of migratory birds which could be spreading the virus.
"If you consider the flight paths, and the fact the disease is spreading westwards, infection in Myanmar may be likely now or in the future," an FAO spokesman in Bangkok told Reuters.
However, they are loath to accuse the junta of lying, noting among other things that after the Indian Ocean tsunami, Myanmar announced a death toll only in double figures -- an estimate derided at the time but which later turned out to be accurate.
On the ground, the FAO says cooperation with government veterinary officials is good, and that bird flu reports from overseas dissident groups are in all likelihood Newcastle disease, a bird illness which poses no major risk to humans.
"I trust them," said Tang Zhengping, the FAO's representative in Yangon.
Under FAO auspices, Myanmar has been able to test samples for bird flu since April by sending them to Australia for analysis, although Tang said none had been sent either there or elsewhere.
No human or animal testing is available inside the country.
International health experts say the Health Ministry has drawn up a draft bird flu management strategy, including plans to educate Myanmar's 45 million people about it, as well as disease surveillance and victim treatment plans.
It has even identified special "bird flu hospitals", including one at an infectious diseases center near Yangon which is equipped with isolation wards, said one expert, admitting nevertheless that much concrete action needed to be taken.
"Developing a national plan is already a big step. If the government is building a plan, I see that as a sign of political will," the expert said.
"But obviously, the Minister of Health will need resources in case something happens. Whether he will get those resources -- that's another story."
Even though years of mismanagement have crippled the economy, the expert said Myanmar still had a relatively large number of overseas-qualified doctors, unlike other impoverished nations in the bird flu firing line such as Cambodia.
Health experts said they also expected open cooperation in the event of a human outbreak, since that was the only way to get access to regional stockpiles of treatments such as Tamiflu.
Romania and Turkey report new bird flu outbreaks
Romania and Turkey reported new cases of avian flu on Saturday and began culling hundreds of birds to prevent the globally feared disease from spreading.
If the Romanian cases turn out to be the deadly H5N1 virus, they would be the first evidence the strain has spread to Europe from Asia, where it has killed 65 people and millions of birds since 2003. Russia and Kazakhstan have already had outbreaks.
Experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into one which spreads easily among humans, creating a pandemic that might kill millions. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide.
Ion Agafitei, Romania's chief veterinarian, told reporters three birds had tested positive in the Danube delta village of Smardan after the first cases emerged in another village on Friday.
Further tests, some in Britain, were planned to discover whether the strain is H5N1.
CNN Turk television quoted Turkish Farm Minister Mehdi Eker as saying bird flu had been discovered in Turkey for the first time.
The television station said turkeys had died of the disease on a farm in Balikesir province near the Aegean Sea in western Turkey. All animals on the farm had been slaughtered.
"Yesterday, unfortunately, we experienced a case of bird flu. But everything is under control, every precautionary measure has been taken to prevent it spreading," CNN Turk quoted Eker as saying. The minister gave no details.
The farm is located near a natural park known for its rich birdlife. CNN Turk quoted the provincial deputy governor, Halil Yavuz Kaya, as saying the turkeys could have contracted the disease from migratory birds.
In Romania, quarantines were imposed on the two affected villages and five others which had suspicious bird deaths in recent days. No livestock may be taken from the delta to market.
In Ceamurlia de Jos, a few km (miles) from the Black Sea, men with white masks poisoned dozens of birds with carbon dioxide before burning them.
"Nobody dares to eat poultry here after what happened," Mihai Carciumaru, the mayor of the village, told Reuters.
"I attended a wedding today and I asked doctors to check whether the guests had poultry on their menu. But it's not the case, they've all decided to eat pork."
Romanian television showed peasants from the village saying large numbers of poultry had died in recent days.
"Mysteriously my birds die one after another. I've lost 45 geese and authorities will kill the rest leaving me with nothing," an angry villager told private station Antena 3.
The Danube delta contains Europe's largest wetlands and is a major migratory area for wild birds coming from Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany. The birds mainly move to warmer areas in North Africa including the Nile delta for winter.
Romanian authorities banned hunting across the delta, which is home to 14,000 people, and sent medical teams to test for possible human cases.
Bulgaria, which is seen as a potential next destination for the bird flu outbreak, said it had not yet registered any cases. Veterinary officials said they would travel to the Danube river border region to monitor the implementation of safety rules.
The New York Times said a draft of the U.S. government's final plan for dealing with a flu pandemic showed the country was woefully unprepared.
The document says a large outbreak that began in Asia would be likely to reach the United States within "a few months or even weeks" and that more than 1.9 million people could die.
Suspected bird flu cases in Romania
Officials today restricted access to a village in eastern Romania after three ducks were found dead in the Danube delta and were being tested for bird flu, the agriculture minister said.
Scientists Unlock the Genetic Code of the 1918 Bird Flu
Health officials worldwide are anxiously watching every case of bird flu. They are afraid the virus will mutate so it could spread from one person to another.
About half the people who have caught the bird flu have died. There is no vaccine and not enough medicine to fight it, which is why some American Army doctors are studying the deadliest flu pandemic in history.
In 1918 a flu virus killed between 20 and 50 million people worldwide.
Andrew Jakomas, a survivor, describes it, "We had little caskets for the little babies that stretched for four and five blocks. Eight high. Ten high."
Why was this flu so deadly, and where did it originate? That's what Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger with the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology wants to find out. "We want to derive lessons from what we study about the 1918 virus to help us understand how influenza pandemics might form for the future and what we might be able to do to prevent them."
Scientists set out to reconstruct the 1918 virus in the lab. They found tissue samples from World War I soldiers killed by the flu. No one had isolated or saved the 1918 virus. But the U.S. Army saved autopsy tissue from the soldiers, and Dr. Taubenberger said scientists pieced together fragments of the virus and now have sequenced all of its genes. "It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle or putting together a mosaic."
Last year, British scientists discovered how the 1918 virus, also bird flu, was able to spread to humans and explode into an epidemic.
Sir John Skehel heads Britain's National Institute for Medical Research. He said British researchers were able to determine the structure of one of the virus' proteins. "This protein is important because it is involved in sticking the virus to cells. So, for example, when viruses come from birds into humans, this protein has to change a little, so that now, instead of just binding to bird cells, it can also bind to human cells and infect them."
This has not yet happened with the current strains of bird flu, but health officials are concerned that it could.
And chickens and ducks are not the only potential carriers according to Dr. Taubenberger. "There is an enormous reservoir of viruses out there in the world and we are really only at the tip of the iceberg as to how many viruses there are."
For the past several years, doctors have warned that another flu epidemic is bound to happen. If they can find out how the 1918 virus mutated, they might learn how to disable the current viruses and prevent a new pandemic.
Bird flu found in 7 Russian towns, 19 more suspected
The bird flu has been registered in seven Russian towns, with 19 being watched for a possible outbreak, the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Oversight said Wednesday.
"As of October 5, 2005 seven towns in Russia have an unfavorable bird flu situation and 19 towns are suspected [of infection]," the service said in a news release.
During the epidemic, the disease has been registered in 50 towns in six of Russia's Federation components, with 83 major cities suspected of contamination.
Asian Bird Flu Has Similarities to Virus Behind 1918 Pandemic
The Asian bird flu feared for its potential to start a worldwide health catastrophe shares some key genetic features with the 1918 Spanish flu that killed as many as 50 million people worldwide, according to research in this week's issue of the journals Nature and Science.
A reconstruction of the chemical makeup of the deadly Spanish flu virus suggests that some samples of the bird flu have developed genetic changes that may allow the virus circulating to spread from person to person, said Jeffery Taubenberger, a microbiologist at the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland.
The avian flu has killed 59 people in Asia who contracted the virus from contact with domestic or wild fowl. Health officials fear a global epidemic may arise if the virus becomes contagious among people. That's because humans don't have a natural immunity to the so-called H5NI virus, health officials have said.
The virus ``might be going down a similar path to 1918,'' Tautenberger said in a briefing with reporters yesterday. His research is being published in Nature.
President George W. Bush said yesterday that concern about a pandemic is one reason he would like to give the military more power to respond to disasters.
``I take this issue very seriously,'' Bush said at a White House news conference yesterday. ``I'm not predicting an outbreak; I'm just suggesting to you we better be thinking about it, and we are.''
DNA From Soliders
Taubenberger and his team extracted fragments of DNA from frozen tissue and from autopsy specimens of soldiers killed by the Spanish flu. Using techniques that enabled U.S. researchers to decipher the entire human genome in 2001, his lab identified the sequence of chemical units in the genes from Spanish flu.
Ten genetic changes in the virus's protein building blocks distinguish the Spanish flu and other contagious human viruses from influenzas that circulate in birds, the Nature study said. Different versions of the H5N1 virus taken from birds, tigers and humans already had one or more of the genetic changes, the report said.
Three worldwide outbreaks of flu occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968. While all three may have been caused at least partially by viruses from animals, the 1918 flu, by far the most deadly, may have started when a bird virus acquired a genetic changes allowing for human-to-human spread, Taubenberger said.
By contrast, the 1957 pandemic that killed about 70,000 Americans and the 1968 ``swine flu'' that killed about 34,000 probably emerged when a human and bird virus exchanged genes. The presence of genes from the human virus gave the human immune system some ability to recognize the flu and fight it off, he said.
If Not When
``We all recognize and are very focused on the potential for a pandemic outbreak of influenza,'' said Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the briefing. ``Most experts agree it's not a question of `if,' it's a question of `when.'''
Using the gene sequence from DNA extracted from an Alaskan woman exhumed in 1997, CDC scientists reconstructed a living version of the Spanish flu for experimentation in animals and human tissues. The reconstructed virus was vulnerable to antiviral treatments such as Roche Holding AG's Tamiflu that countries have stockpiled to treat bird flu, said Terrence Tumpey, who led a study that will be published in the Oct. 7 issue of Science.
Flu viruses use a protein called hemagglutinin for entering lung cells. When Tumpey, a CDC senior microbiologist, substituted another version of the hemagglutinin protein that came from a ``garden-variety'' virus that circulates seasonally, into the reconstructed Spanish flu, the virus lost its killing power in mice, he said.
``The Spanish flu hemagglutinin induces tremendous inflammation in the deeper areas of the lung,'' he said in a telephone interview.
Tamiflu and other drugs that have been approved to treat flu target another viral protein, called neuraminidase, Tumpey said. Companies have indicated interest in using the hemagglutinin research to develop treatments for pandemic flu, Tumpey said. He declined to name which companies he had spoken with.
The researchers downplayed the risk of bringing back to life a virus that killed millions of people 87 years ago. People who survived the initial 1918 outbreak gained immunity to the virus, and milder versions of the Spanish flu have been circulating among people for decades, Taubenberger said.
Never Went Away
``The viruses that cause disease in humans today are direct descendants'' of Spanish flu, he said. ``In that sense, it never went away.''
The WHO has warned that the risk of a bird-flu pandemic is at its highest since a 1968 outbreak, and that 2 million to 7.4 million people could die in a pandemic. Still, human-to-human transmission hasn't been confirmed.
With funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Sanofi-Aventis SA has developed a vaccine that induces protective antibodies to H5N1 in people. The shot is composed of significantly more protein than standard flu vaccine, studies showed in September. Making enough for the entire U.S. population remains a challenge, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said yesterday.
``We need a comprehensive strategy,'' he said. ``The first thing to do would be to try to prevent it from spreading or contain it.''
Vietnam declares no bird flu victims in two months
Deputy Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan has declared that there has been no victim of the avian flu type A caused by virus H5N1 detected in Vietnam since July 25, 2005.
Speaking at a meeting of the National Steering Board for Controlling and Preventing SARS and Dangerous Epidemics in Hanoi on September 28, the health official, however, warned of a recurrence of the avian flu in the coming winter. He instructed the contingent of preventive health workers to continue monitoring high-risk areas and co-ordinate with the Treatment Department to promptly detect possible infection cases.
Deputy Minister Huan said the Health Ministry has set aside VND 775 million (roughly US $49,000) for organising training courses, detecting and monitoring human cases tested positive to the flu in high-risk localities, where vaccination has been conducted on poultry flocks.
So far, 24 provinces and cities nationwide have conducted the first round of vaccinations against virus H5N1 for 20 million poultry heads.
The Health Ministry has designed a plan of action to prevent a widespread epidemic of human infections. The H5N1 vaccine, which has been successfully tested on animals, will be used to treat humans on a trial basis once permitted.
Since the first case of H5N1 infection, detected in late 2003, Vietnam has had 91 victims of the disease, including 41 fatal cases. All of the bird flu victims had had direct contacts with infected fowls. (VNA)
British stockpiled flu drug may be useless
The virus that causes avian influenza in humans appears to be developing resistance to an anti-viral drug the British government has stockpiled.
The Department of Health spent 186 million pounds ($329 million) on 14.6 million courses of Tamiflu, the Times of London reported. If the H5N1 virus becomes resistant to the anti-viral, the Tamiflu would be useless.
About 100 people worldwide have died of avian influenza, mostly in Southeast Asia -- and almost all have worked directly with poultry and had contact with infected birds. Health experts fear if the flu strain mutates so it can be spread person-to-person, the world could face a disaster like the influenza pandemic at the end of World War I.
Because influenza viruses mutate so readily, vaccines are difficult to develop. British authorities hoped the Tamiflu could be used to contain an epidemic until a vaccine was found.
China drafts plan to fight bird flu
China has drafted a contingency plan to cope with a much-feared outbreak of bird flu in the coming winter, state media reported, only two days after it announced a blueprint for fighting a human influenza pandemic.
Bird flu, including the deadly H5N1 strain that has killed 65 people in Asia, is believed to be endemic in the country's poultry population.
The Ministry of Agriculture has issued "clear regulations" on bird flu monitoring, warning, reporting and emergency responses for the coming autumn and winter, Xinhua news agency said in a report late on Friday.
The regulations include obligations for a series of departments in case of an epidemic and a system of four colour-coded alert levels, the report said without giving details.
An unnamed official at the Agriculture Ministry was quoted as saying China faced a "grave" situation in preventing and controlling bird flu.
"The ways of raising poultry in parts of China are relatively backward and there is frequent circulation and shipment of livestock between regions. There are some weak points in our work. Our task is quite arduous," he was quoted as saying.
The plan called for strengthening surveillance in border areas, poultry cultivating strongholds, migration routes of migratory birds and river networks in south China -- widely seen as the flu's hotbed with people living in close proximity to livestock.
China neighbours Vietnam, where the H5N1 strain has killed 37 people, and hosts sections of three global migration routes for migratory birds. It also has the second largest domestic poultry industry in the world.
China has in past successfully controlled outbreaks of bird flu with a combination of vaccinations, culling and surveillance.
It reported two outbreaks in far-flung western regions of Qinghai and Xinjiang earlier this year.
But it was also widely criticised for initially trying to cover up the outbreak of SARS, which emerged in southern China in 2003 and spread around the world, infecting 8,000 people and killing 800.
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