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News clippings about Bird Flu in September 2005.


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WHO Tries to Calm Bird Flu Fears

The World Health Organization moved Friday to dampen fears over alarming predictions quoted by one of its own officials that a pandemic stemming from the bird flu virus ravaging parts of Asia could kill as many as 150 million people.

The U.N. health agency was fielding inquiries from both the media and the general public after Dr. David Nabarro a senior WHO official named Thursday as the new U.N. coordinator for avian and human influenza cited the number during a press conference at the U.N.'s New York headquarters.

WHO's flu spokesman at the agency's Geneva headquarters made a surprise appearance Friday at the U.N. regular media briefing in an effort to put Nabarro's comments in context. While he did not say the 150 million prediction was wrong, or even implausible, he reiterated that WHO considers a maximum death toll of 7.4 million a more reasoned forecast.

Scientists have made all sorts of predictions, ranging from less than 2 million to 360 million. Others have quoted 150 million.

"We're not going to know how lethal the next pandemic is going to be until the pandemic begins," said WHO influenza spokesman Dick Thompson.

"You could pick almost any number," until then, he said, adding that WHO "can't be dragged into further scaremongering."

Experts agree that there will certainly be another flu pandemic a new human flu strain that goes global. However, it is unknown when or how bad that global epidemic will be. It is also unknown whether the H5N1 bird flu strain circulating in Asian poultry now will be the origin of the next pandemic, but experts are tracking it just in case and governments across the world are preparing themselves for such a possibility.

Two unknown factors will have a major influence on how many people will die from the next flu pandemic, experts say. One is the attack rate, or the proportion of the population that become infected. The other is the death rate, or the proportion of the sick who die.

Normal seasonal flu viruses have an attack rate of between 5 percent and 20 percent, but a death rate of less than 1 percent. Between 250,000 and 500,00 die from flu every year, according to WHO. Based on evidence from the three pandemics that occurred during the 20th Century, scientists have determined that pandemic flu strains tend to infect between 25 percent and 35 percent of the population.

The worst death rate was seen in the 1918 pandemic, known as the Spanish flu pandemic. That killed 2.6 percent of those who got sick, killing a total of about 40 million people.

The other two pandemics were gentler. The 1957 one killed 2 million people and the most recent one, in 1968, killed 1 million people.

Forecasts that change the assumed attack rate or the death rate will yield different predictions. Other assumptions, such as whether or not anti-flu drugs will work against the virus, would also change the figures.

WHO said Friday that it considers the most likely scenario to be a death toll of between 2 million and 7.4 million people.

"That's because we looked at what happened in the 1918 pandemic. That caused the greatest number of deaths ever recorded from an infectious disease in a single year, by far. More than the black plague, more than any other infectious disease," said Thompson. "That was an extreme of an already rare event. Pandemics normally have more modest death rates."

When the U.N. health agency advises countries on how to prepare for the next pandemic, it uses the moderate scenario because that's what's most likely to happen. It doesn't mean that a more exaggerated scenario cannot happen, only that it is less likely, Thompson said.

"There is a limited amount of public health money available to countries and we have to give them the best guidance on how to spend that money," he said.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swathes of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing at least 65 people more than 40 of them in Vietnam and resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds.

Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds. But WHO has warned that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans changing it from a bird virus to a human pandemic flu strain.

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U.S. preparing for bird flu to arrive from eastern Asia
Migrating wildfowl expected to bring virus to Americas

As world health leaders step up their warnings about a dangerous strain of bird flu in Asia, U.S. scientists are warily scanning the skies to the far north for signs of the virus in migrating waterfowl that cross continents and make their seasonal trips to the southern reaches of the United States.

The strain of bird flu known as H5N1 has yet to mutate into a form that can be transmitted easily among humans, but it already poses a threat to people in Asian nations who live in close proximity to ducks and chickens, and it would cause huge problems for the U.S. poultry industry if H5N1 became established in North America.

During the summer, the virus was apparently carried by migrating birds from China and Southeast Asia to Kazakhstan and Siberia, in the Russian Federation, where it subsequently infected domestic chicken flocks. The more entrenched the virus becomes in the world's bird population, experts believe, the greater the chances H5N1 will eventually mutate into a human disease.

Unlike seasonal flu, this influenza strain has been extraordinarily deadly for the few humans who have caught it from close contact with infected birds. Since December 2003, when the outbreak began, 115 people are known to have contracted it, and 59 of them died in four Asian countries.

At a meeting in Washington, D.C., with health leaders from North and South America on Tuesday, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook declared that a pandemic was virtually inevitable. "There is a storm brewing that will test us all," he said. "We must anticipate it and prepare to the very best of our combined abilities."

At UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, doctors and bird veterinarians outlined efforts under way in California to monitor the dangerous H5N1 strain, which has yet to appear in birds in the Western Hemisphere, but is bound to create a scare if and when it does.

The focus is currently on Alaska, a junction where birds from the East Asia/Australian flyway -- encompassing areas infected with H5N1 -- can make a left turn and fly south along the Pacific Americas Flyway, which runs along the Pacific Coast, through California, all the way to the southern extreme of Argentina.

"Ducks, geese, gulls and terns are a natural host for these viruses," said Dr. Walter Boyce, executive director of the Wildlife Health Center at UC Davis.

He stressed that research so far has shown no evidence of any wild bird carrying the H5N1 virus in North America. But with the seasonal migrations of millions of birds now kicking into gear, Boyce said there is a concern that wild birds "will spread H5N1 around the world."

Dr. Carol Cardona, an avian flu and poultry expert at UC Davis, said the arrival of H5N1 will be problematic for chicken producers in the United States, but because birds here are raised under different conditions from those in Asia, it is less likely to wipe out vast flocks of domestic birds.

In Asia, farmers live in close proximity to many small flocks of birds where ducks, geese, chickens and pigs intermingle. In the United States, most poultry are raised in large commercial establishments that require standard "biosecurity" procedures limiting human contact with bird feces, which carry the virus.

Such biosecurity procedures have in fact worked in Asia. To date, the H5N1 virus has not turned up in the large poultry farms and processing plants that operate there, Cardona said.

In the United States, the arrival of H5N1 will necessitate tighter surveillance for bird flu, and flocks found infected would be "depopulated," the UC Davis veterinarian said. But she does not anticipate that orders would come down requiring the widespread slaughter of poultry -- even those that are raised in backyards and on hobby farms. As scary as this virus is, common sense procedures such as covering bird feed piles and keeping chickens under a roof can protect birds from virus dropped by wild, infected birds.

Dr. Warner Hudson, an infectious disease specialist at UC Davis Medical Center, stressed the importance of planning for the worst. "It's too big a bet not to prepare like crazy," he said. "For the first time, at least we have an early warning."

An experimental vaccine is being tested against the current strain of H5N1 flu, but the United States expects to produce no more than 20 million doses this year, and there is no guarantee it would work at all on a strain that passes easily among humans -- by definition, it would be a mutation of the current bug that is almost exclusively a disease among birds.

Stocks of an antiviral drug, Tamiflu, are woefully short of what would be needed to treat bird flu should it spring into a pandemic form. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stockpiled enough to treat 2.3 million people. Hoffmann-La Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant that is the world's sole supplier of the drug, has pledged to build a U.S. plant to produce Tamiflu before the year's end, but the drug supplies from that plant would not be ready until late 2006.

Should a deadly flu arrive in the United States -- and experts are not predicting when or if it would -- Hudson said that frequent hand-washing, the use of alcohol gel hand cleaners, and "respiratory etiquette" such as covering your nose when you sneeze are effective preventatives. "Stay home when you are sick," he advised.

Dr. Howard Backer, acting state health officer, said the California Department of Health Services is prepared for a pandemic, despite shortages of personnel in the state's Richmond virus lab, where samples of potential cases of bird flu would be tested. Backer said more than two dozen possible cases have already been evaluated, and all turned up negative.

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Korea to Issue Bird Flu Warning

The Korean government will issue a bird flu warning from mid-October to prepare against the arrival of migratory birds that could spread the deadly disease.

From November, the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry plans to begin special monitoring of poultry farms as often as twice a day and urge chicken and duck farmers to stay vigilant against possible outbreaks.

Bird flu cases were found at 19 poultry farms in Korea between December 2003 and March the following year forcing officials to cull 5.3 million birds. Health officials say the strain found in Korea was not the H5N1 virus, which can be contracted by humans.

Australia intercepts suspect poultry in bid to prevent flu outbreak

Australia's justice minister, Chris Ellison, says several tonnes of suspect poultry meat has been intercepted by authorities trying to prevent an outbreak of bird flu in Australia.

Senator Ellison has given no details of which countries the suspect meat came from but says quarantine and customs officers have received extra training to deal with the threat.

The World Health Organisation has listed 16 Asian countries as high-risk areas.

Senator Ellison says the Australian public should remain calm as quarantine and customs are vigilant to the threat.

"We've seized several tonnes of poultry meat and associated goods and items, and I think the thing to remember is that in this case we shouldn't panic, we shouldn't cause undue public apprehension," he said.

"We're working closely with health and overseas organisations and we have our people posted overseas who are providing us with intelligence."

Since late 2003, outbreaks of bird flu have killed more than 60 people in Asia, mostly in Vietnam, but also in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia.

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Huge demand for anti bird flu drug

Demand for anti bird flu drug Tamiflu is growing so fast the company that supplies it has not been able to keep up with orders.

New Zealanders, particularly travellers and those going on business to Southeast Asia, are seeking their own supplies of the drug as public fears of a global flu pandemic increase.

Bird flu has infected about 112 people and caused 57 deaths in Asia since the end of 2003.

Health experts have warned that, as long as Avian flu exists, there is a risk it could mutate, become highly infectious and eventually transfer from human-to-human.

At the moment Tamiflu is seen as the best way of preventing the spread of the pandemic - in conjunction with measures such as vigilant personal hygiene and avoiding public places.

Yesterday, Roche Products (NZ) Ltd sales and marketing director Stuart Knight said within two days of last week's shipment arriving the company had distributed all its supplies to wholesalers. The next planned delivery was in the first week of October.

Mr Knight said the company had seen a "significant and sustained" increase in demand this year, initially because of the shortage of this winter's influenza vaccine but more recently because of concerns about a flu pandemic. Media coverage of a pandemic had contributed to that.

If demand continued, people wanting Tamiflu could expect to wait up to three months for a prescription to be filled.

Mr Knight said Roche's obligation to fulfil the Government order was not affected by any changes in public demand.

Some pharmacies had run out of Tamiflu and had waiting lists but others still had some supplies.

Chieh Lin Ho, pharmacist at Radius Care 104, in Auckland's Queen Street said in the past two weeks it had sold about 28 packets of Tamiflu compared to one packet for the whole of last year. Most of those buying the drug were travelling to Southeast Asia but one family wanted it "just in case the Avian bird flu hit New Zealand".

Travel Doctor New Zealand managing director Wendy Penno said between 30 and 50 people at its Auckland clinic were on a waiting list for Tamiflu.

A number of companies had sought the drug for staff travelling overseas.

Dr Daniel Wu, of College Hill Doctors in Central Auckland had prescribed Tamiflu for a handful of patients going overseas and said there appeared to be a degree of public panic.

While people at the frontline, such as doctors, nurses and those working in customs needed to make sure they had access to Tamiflu he did not believe the general public needed to "fork out all that money".

"There are other more important things like basic hygiene and avoiding public places. All those things are far more important than having a packet of Tamiflu," he said.

But Dr Jonathan Fox, president of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a Meadowbank GP, did not believe people were panicking, there was simply increased public awareness.

Ministry of Health director of public health Dr Mark Jacobs said it was "entirely appropriate" for some level of concern about the approaching pandemic.

"There's going to be another influenza pandemic. History teaches us that. We don't know if the current bird flu is the start of that, we don't know when it will hit. It could happen soon or it might be years off," Dr Jacobs said.

The ministry was not providing advice to people to buy Tamiflu but they had the right to ask their GP for a prescription for it, he said.

"It is by no means a magic bullet. It hasn't been tested in a pandemic situation before. Obviously there's good evidence it can be of benefit for seasonal influenza," he said.

Dr Jacobs said the best planning in the world would not prevent significant impact to the community during an epidemic. Common sense precautions such as regularly washing hands and staying home would be vital.

About 100 people die from influenza in New Zealand each year.

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Iran fears wintering wildfowl will bring bird flu

Iran is bracing for a probable bird flu outbreak, although no birds have so far been found contaminated with the H5N1 strain that is dangerous to humans, a senior veterinary officer said on Monday.

"We will most probably get the bird flu carried by the millions of wild birds that are on their way to Iran," said Behrouz Yasemi, spokesman for Iran's veterinary authority.

Flocks of wild geese, ducks and other waterfowl winter among northern Iran's wetlands and lakes.

"We have warned poultry farmers to fence off their birds and stop them mixing with wild ones," Yasemi said.

"We have not found the feared H5N1 strain of flu virus among the 2,700 samples we have tested so far," he added.

The veterinary authority has requested that every sick bird found be sent for testing.

"We have not got it yet, but we plan to be prepared for it when it arrives in our northern provinces," he added.

Bird flu has killed 65 people in four Asian countries since late 2003 and has been found in birds in Russia and Europe.

The H5N1 strain, capable of killing half the people it infects, could trigger a pandemic if it gains the ability to be transmitted easily between humans.

Yasemi recalled that Iran had successfully countered the disease in 2003 by banning all bird products from east Asia. But stopping flocks of migrating wildfowl was impossible.

A bird flu committee has been formed, with veterinary experts working with members of the health and agriculture ministries and the department of the environment.

The committee has issued a nationwide ban on the hunting of wild birds.

Iran banned the import of bird products from Russia and Kazakhstan following the outbreak of bird flu in those countries. This sparked a tit-for-tat ban on Iranian products from the Russian government.

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14 Russian towns remain under bird flu quarantine

Fourteen Russian towns and villages remain under bird flu quarantine, while 38 could have been affected by the disease, the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Oversight said Monday.

The regions include the Altai territory, the Tyumen, Omsk and Novosibirsk regions in Western Siberia and the Chelyabinsk region in the South Urals.

The quarantine has been lifted in the Siberian region of Kurgan. It was confirmed that birds had contracted the flu in 49 towns and villages, but 81 were suspected of being contaminated.

PANICKED Australians living in Indonesia have rushed local clinics for supplies of drugs to protect them from bird flu.

The Indonesian Government this week gave bird flu "extraordinary incident" priority as doctors announced they were monitoring 10 patients with bird flu symptoms.

Amid fears the deadly avian influenza outbreak is spreading, Australia's Jakarta embassy advised Australians living in Indonesia to have flu vaccinations and secure their own stocks of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu.

Australia's chief medical officer Professor John Horvath yesterday said government health officials were closely monitoring events in Indonesia.

"Of greatest importance is the question of whether these recent events in Indonesia signal the start of an influenza pandemic," he said.

"I am advised that currently there is no evidence that this has happened."

But there was a tide of expat Australians seeking stocks of Tamiflu and regular flu vaccinations.

"We have had a lot of calls in the last few days and we are expecting a lot more in the weeks to come," said Dr Uwe Stocker from the SOS medical clinic in South Jakarta.

"We don't have Tamiflu and at the moment we don't even have any regular flu vaccine."

A nurse at Global Doctor, another clinic treating mainly foreigners and wealthy Indonesians, also said they were out of regular flu vaccine and were trying to obtain Tamiflu.

Prof Horvath said there was little risk to people travelling in bird-flu affected areas if they were not in close contact with infected birds.

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Bird flu alert unchanged despite Indonesia

The bird flu alert in Jakarta, where four people have died and 10 people are under hospital observation, does not mean the avian flu outbreak has worsened, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

The WHO said increased surveillance by the Indonesian government could explain the rise in cases being uncovered, adding there was still no evidence that the risk of human-to-human transmission of the disease was any greater.

"With increased surveillance it's not unusual that you would pick up more cases," said Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO's global special representative on avian flu.

"So far there is no evidence for increased chance of human-to-human transmission," Chan told Reuters by telephone from Sydney after attending a WHO conference in Noumea, capital of New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

Vietnamese man dies of bird flu

A 35-year-old man from Vietnam's southern Ben Tre province died of bird flu, raising the total fatal cases in the country to 21 since early this year, the local newspaper Labor reported Thursday.

The man named Phan Van Lu from the Ba Tri district was infected with the virus strain H5N1. He died at a provincial hospital on July 31, one day after being hospitalized, Vietnam's Health Ministry has confirmed.

The man slaughtered two dead chickens for meal on July 25. He was the first patient in Ben Tre to die of bird flu.

The ministry also announced that a total of 64 local people from 25 localities had been infected with bird flu since early this year, including the deaths.

To prevent new bird flu outbreaks, Vietnam is conducting bird flu vaccination among fowls in 33 out of 64 cities and provinces. Under a recent instruction of the Vietnamese government, the vaccination among fowls, mainly chickens and ducks, must be completed by late November at the latest.

The government urged relevant ministries to rapidly cull infected fowls, isolate bird flu outbreaks, and forbid the transport of poultry as well as poultry products out of affected areas, if the disease is spotted in any localities.

According to local veterinary agencies, up to 70 percent of waterfowls in the southern Mekong delta have been recently tested positive to H5N1.

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Poultry smugglers will be prosecuted

The Cabinet wants those caught smuggling live, processed or even cooked birds to be prosecuted to ensure the country remains free from avian flu following Indonesia’s declaration of a bird flu epidemic.

Previously, offenders only had their goods confiscated and destroyed, but they would now be charged for smuggling, said Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

He added that punitive measures must be taken to avert a major problem in the country.

More random checks on travellers’ luggage at all entry points would be carried out as some people might not realise that they were committing an offence by bringing in the birds, he said.

“At the moment, we are still free from the avian influenza, but we need to be stringent at all times to prevent it. Apart from Indonesia, southern Thailand is also experiencing the problem.

“The Cabinet has also agreed that should the country be affected by bird flu, chicken farmers would be compensated if their birds had to be culled.  

“This is to ensure that farmers cooperate fully with the authority and report all cases of bird diseases for testing,” he told reporters after meeting Macedonia Deputy Prime Minister Minco Jordanov at his office yesterday.

Muhyiddin said a special committee comprising of several ministries and agencies had been set up to tackle the issue.

The committee would meet soon to discuss other contingency plans.

He said they would seek help from local authorities and leaders, particularly village heads.

“We need their help to monitor migratory birds and range chickens in their areas because agriculture officers will be too busy monitoring commercial poultry farmers,” he said.

Muhyiddin said Malaysia, which was chairing the the Asean taskforce on avian influenza, would meet in the Philippines at the year end and propose that the taskforce seek the help of international bodies to help poorer countries tackle the problem.

This, he said, included getting financial aid to poor countries to compensate their poultry farmers for culling their chicken or ducks.


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Indonesia tests for avian flu at zoo after 19 birds infected by virus

Health officials tested workers at a popular zoo in the Indonesian capital for avian flu on Monday after rare eagles, peacocks and other birds were infected by the virus, forcing authorities to close the establishment.

Meanwhile, three children suspected of contracting the disease were being treated at Jakarta's infectious diseases hospital. Blood samples from the three have been sent to Hong Kong for testing, the health minister said.

The three children - two of whom were in serious condition in the hospital's intensive care unit - are not believed to have contracted the virus from the zoo.

The developments highlighted Indonesia's continuing struggle against bird flu, which is endemic in chicken flocks across the sprawling island nation and has killed four humans since July, the most recent being a 37-year-old woman who died nine days ago.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds. It has also jumped to humans, killing at least 63 people.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to the disease, and news that birds - including rare eagles, herons and peacocks - were infected at Ragunan Zoo in south Jakarta is a particular cause for alarm.

The 19 were from a sample of 27 birds that were randomly tested earlier this month.

On Monday, health workers took blood from employees at the zoo for testing as a precautionary measure.

"It is to give them reassurance," said zoo spokesman Titis Sari Puntorini.

All the birds at the zoo were due to be tested later Monday, Puntorini said.

Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono said infected birds with no conservation value would be slaughtered. Rare birds with the virus would be given medicine, while uninfected ones would be vaccinated, he said.

"If we give them medicine, there is a possibility they can be cured," Puntorini said.

The zoo, Jakarta's largest, will be closed for three weeks.

So far, most human cases have been traced to direct contact with infected birds, but health experts have warned that the virus could mutate and become easily communicable from human to human, possibly triggering a deadly global pandemic.

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Poor Asian farmers are weak link in bird flu fight

Reluctance by poor Asian poultry farmers to report bird flu outbreaks is a weak link in the fight to prevent the deadly disease spreading and causing a human pandemic, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

"We need to realise that there is very little incentive for farmers to report suspected outbreaks," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, which covers 37 Asian and Pacific nations.

"In fact, fear that their flocks might be culled without compensation is a pretty strong disincentive to report an outbreak," said Omi at the opening of the WHO Western Pacific annual conference in Noumea, capital of New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

Millions of poultry have been culled in Asia, destroying the livelihood of many poor farmers, since bird flu was first reported in 2003 in southern China and Hong Kong.

WHO advocates mass culling when an outbreak occurs, but some countries do not go along. Indonesia, for instance, has launched a vaccination drive for poultry, but has carried out only limited culling because it lacks the money to compensate farmers.

WHO has warned that it is only a matter of time before the avian flu virus mutates and spreads between humans, becoming a pandemic which could kill tens of millions.

The H5N1 strain of the disease has already killed 64 people in four Asian countries and has spread to Russia and Europe.

The WHO conference of health ministers and officials from the 37 nations hopes to adopt an Asia-Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases, to fight not only avian flu but other existing and yet to emerge diseases. The plan aims to strengthen reporting of outbreaks, ensure rapid responses and increase international co-operation.

"We must keep in mind that we are likely to encounter in the coming years many other new emerging diseases," said Omi.


Omi said Asian governments were trying their best to combat avian flu, but there was insufficient capacity for proper surveillance in rural villages, and a lack of education was leaving farmers and market operators at risk.

Recalling his personal experiences in Cambodia after the country reported its first human case of avian flu in 2004, Omi said he followed a motorbike with live chickens tied across its back wheel to a small rural market, where he watched a woman pull intestines from the animals with her bare hands.

"If the birds she was handling had been infected with avian influenza virus, I'm sure she would have picked up the infection," he said.

"She was a pleasant, hard-working woman. I asked if she knew anything about the recent outbreaks of avian influenza in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. She said, 'no'," Omi said.

"My brief encounter in Cambodia illustrates the hard realities not only in Cambodia but throughout Asia and beyond. Recent outbreaks in Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia have made it clear that avian influenza is not limited to Asia."

Most of the people killed in Asia since 2003 caught the virus from infected birds. Health experts say the greatest worry is that the highly pathogenic strain of the disease known as H5N1 could mutate and become transmissible between people.

WHO has warned that countries far from heavily hit Southeast Asian states were not safe because the disease was spreading through migratory wildfowl, with the biggest fear that it would spread west into Europe.

"We must not underestimate the threat the world now faces from emerging diseases such as pandemic influenza," WHO's global director general, Dr Lee Jong-wook, told the conference.

"The only condition missing is the emergence of a virus that is capable of rapid transmission among humans," he said.

Lee said an avian flu pandemic would have massive social, economic and political consequences, recalling that the flu pandemics of the 1950s and 1960s killed five million people, and they were only mild pandemics, while the SARS outbreak killed fewer than 1,000 people.

U.S. President George W. Bush unveiled a plan at the United Nations last Wednesday under which countries and international agencies would pool resources and expertise to fight bird flu.

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Indonesia Declares Bird Flu Extraordinary National Case

The Indonesian government on Monday declared the bird flu a "extraordinary national case" and called on all people to watch out for it.

"I declared the case an extraordinary national case (KLB) which requires alertness," Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said after attending a limited cabinet meeting here led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Her statement came as three children were currently being treated on suspicion of having been infected with the fatal disease which had so far claimed four lives in the country.

President Yudhoyono planned to hold a special meeting to discuss the case on Tuesday.

Minister Siti Fadilah said she declared the case a KLB because her office has yet to find out which regions had been infected with the disease.

"We cannot as yet state which regions are affected and which are not. So for the sake of alertness I declared the case a KLB," she said.

Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Alwi Shihab said that the disease had also developed into a global concern as it also broke out in some other countries.

"The Asia Pacific region has also become vulnerable to the avian influenza, and therefore an expert team from abroad will arrive here. Tomorrow there will be a briefing from the experts," he said adding that the President would also issue a special instruction in the meeting on Tuesday.

Asked if the government has been too slow in dealing with the case the minister said that "it is not a matter of speed as it is a world problem."

He said the virus migrated across many countries.

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No New Bird Flu Cases In Humans In Thailand This Year

Thailand has not detected any new confirmed cases of avian influenza or bird flu affecting humans this year.

The Public Health Ministry's Department of Disease Control said in its update that until Sept 14, it had not found new confirmed cases although seven cases from four provinces were under investigation.

The situation was far better than in 2004 when Thailand recorded 17 confirmed cases of bird flu, with 12 deaths.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were 112 confirmed cases worldwide from Dec 26, 2004 to Aug 5 this year, with 25 deaths.

Vietnam had the highest number of cases, registering 63 with 20 deaths, followed by Cambodia with four deaths, and Indonesia one.

The avian influenza outbreak occurred in Thailand for the first time in 2003 when it became en epidemic in the region.

In its three-year National Strategic Plan for Avian Influenza Control, Thailand has budgeted four billion baht (about RM400 million) from 2005 to 2007 to control the spread of the H5 N1 virus in poultry and humans.

WHO said the recent outbreak in Russia and Kazakhstan provided evidence that the H5N1 viruses had spread beyond their initial focus in Southeast Asian countries, where outbreaks are now known to have begun in mid-2003.

It said the outbreak in the region had resulted in the death or destruction of more than 150 million birds and severely affected the agricultural sector and many rural farmers.

WHO said the experience in Southeast Asia indicated that human cases of infection were rare, and that the virus does not transmit easily from poultry to humans.

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Italy takes measures against bird flu

Italian government Friday passed a decree aimed at tackling a possible bird flu outbreak.

In the decree drawn up by Italian Health Minister Francesco Storace, Italian government had slated some 50 million euros for buying 35 million shots of bird flu vaccine.

Italian government also plans to temporarily increase the number of vets available in public health facilities and boost personnel at NAS, the food and health control division of the Carabiniere police.

Speaking at a press conference after his cabinet approved the anti-bird flu decree, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the measures would help prepare the country in case of "an eventual bird flu epidemic."

The WHO has urged all countries to be on the alert and step up measures aimed at containing possible outbreaks of bird flu.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned earlier thisweek that the H5N1 virus, which spread to Russia and Kazakhstan this summer, could spread with the next wave of mass bird migrations.

It stressed that the areas most at risk were southeast Europe, east and north Africa and the Middle East.

Bird flu, also called avian flu, is a highly contagious viral disease which can be 100% fatal among fowl. All types of birds are susceptible to the virus but outbreaks occur most often in chickens and turkeys.

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U.S. government awards over $100 million to Sanofi Pasteur and GlaxoSmithKline to develop drugs against possible pandemic.

Worried that avian flu could spur an influenza pandemic in the United States, the government has awarded more than $100 million to two European pharmaceuticals to help build a drug stockpile.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday it had awarded $100 million to France’s Sanofi pasteur of Sanofi-Aventis to manufacture a vaccine and another $2.8 million to the United Kingdom’s GlaxoSmithKline for its antiviral drug Relenza.

“These countermeasures provide us with tools that we have never had prior to previous influenza pandemics,” said Mike Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services.

The announcement is part of the department’s efforts to buy enough vaccines and antivirals to help reduce the severity of influenza symptoms for 20 million people. Helping drive the agency’s rush to get prepared is the fact that there is no pre-existing human immunity to the virus.

The avian flu spreads through migratory birds, and half of the 112 people who have been infected have died, according to the department. It has also led to the deaths of more than 140 million birds.

The disease has been found in 10 countries, most recently Russia, and is approaching Europe, the department said. 

The deal struck with Sanofi requires the Paris-based company to manufacture the vaccine from its U.S. headquarters in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, from early September through late October. The company will also receive additional fees for storing and formulating the vaccine.

The amount of dosages to be produced has not been set as the company’s vaccine is still going through clinical trials.

London-based drugmaker Glaxo will supply enough Relenza doses to treat 84,300 people. The pharmaceutical company has its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia.

The contracts with the European companies are part of the U.S.’ approach to curbing the possible impact brought on by the flu. Efforts include surveillance in Asia, where the influenza was first identified.

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U.N. health chief delivers grim message on bird flu

Avian flu will mutate and become transmissible by humans and the world has no time to lose to stop it becoming a pandemic, the head of the U.N. World Health Organization said on Thursday.

Lee Jong-wook, a South Korean doctor, delivered his stark warning as the United States worked to rally states behind a new U.S. plan to fight the disease, which has already killed more than 60 people in Asia and spread to Russia and Europe.

"Human influenza is coming, we know that, and no government, no leaders can afford to be caught off-guard," Lee said.

"We must pounce on human pandemic outbreaks with all medicines at our disposal and at the earliest possible moment," he told a news conference in New York.

"When the pandemic starts, it is simply too late."

U.S. President George W. Bush unveiled a plan at the United Nations on Wednesday under which countries and international agencies would pool resources and expertise to fight bird flu.

His International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza reflects growing concern that avian flu could becomes a human pandemic, a threat Bush said the world must not allow.

Most of the people killed in Asia since 2003 caught the virus from infected birds. Health experts say the greatest worry is that the highly pathogenic strain of the disease known as H5N1 could mutate and become transmissible between people.

Lee said H5N1 "will acquire this capability -- it's just an issue of timing." Countries far from heavily hit Southeast Asian states would not be safe because the disease was spreading through migratory wildfowl, Lee added.

He urged states like Japan, Switzerland and France with stockpiles of anti-flu drugs to make medicines available for international emergencies.

Paula Dobriansky, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, said the United States would convene a senior officials meeting in Washington soon to coordinate policy. Canada will host a global health ministers in the coming weeks to support the U.S. initiative, she said.

Partner countries and agencies include Argentina, Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Russia, as well as WHO, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and UNICEF, Dobriansky said.

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Birds flu fears haunt Netherlands again

Two years ago, Dutch farmer Pieter van Lierop had to kill his 7,000 chickens with poison gas during a bird flu outbreak. He is prepared to take drastic action to make sure that will not happen again.

Van Lierop's farm in Asten in the southern heartland of the Dutch poultry sector was among the 1,300 farms forced to cull 30.7 million birds to contain the virus that led to one human death in one of the world's top poultry-exporting countries.

"My children couldn't understand how I allowed our chickens to be killed since they were all free of the virus," Van Lierop told Reuters. "It was horrible."

"It cost more money per chicken than we could earn in five years. Many people haven't recovered financially yet. If it repeats again, the chicken sector will disappear," he said.

Two years after the devastating outbreak, fears are back in the Netherlands of a possible return of the disease from migrating birds from Russia, where a virulent bird flu strain, potentially lethal to humans, was found in six regions.

The government rushed to take precautions and made farmers keep all poultry indoors to prevent contact with wild birds.

Van Lierop happily brought his 30,000 free-ranging laying chickens inside next to his other 40,000 birds.

"I'm glad that our government did something in time and it costs nothing. I have invested some 2-2.5 million euros (since 2003) and I wouldn't like to lose it," Van Lierop said.

In the neighboring agricultural town of Someren, farmer Twan Engelen who exports all the hatching eggs produced by his 130,000 chickens to Russia, also hailed the temporary measure.

"We've been through this once and we wouldn't like to risk having it again. It's an insurance against the risk," said Engelen, who lost 120,000 birds and some 2 million euros in the 2003 outbreak that wiped out a third of the Dutch poultry.


Dutch scientists, who recommended the precautions to the government, fear that migrating birds moving to warmer areas for winter after nesting in infected Russian regions, could spread the H5N1 virus strain found there to other European countries.

The European Commission, however, sees this as unlikely and viewed the Dutch measures as exaggerated. Brussels said keeping poultry indoors was unnecessary as bird flu has only a remote

chance of striking the European Union in the immediate future.

But the Dutch argue the risk for the country's more than 90 million poultry is bigger than the rest of the EU.

"The situation in the Netherlands could be quite explosive because of the huge concentration and numbers of poultry. It is worse than in other countries," said Albert Osterhaus, an avian flu expert at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.

Dutch veterinarians and scientists believe the 2003 outbreak of the different, H7N7 strain, was caused by wild birds that infected outdoor poultry in central Netherlands, then spread to the south and into Germany and Belgium where it raged on a lesser scale.

The H5N1 strain found in Russia has killed more than 60 people in Asia since August 2003.

The Dutch farm ministry's chief veterinarian Peter de Leeuw said the Netherlands had many spots popular among migrating birds that were situated near big concentrations of the country's 5 million outdoor poultry, which raised the risk.

"Many of the poultry farmers have the feeling that bringing the chickens inside is a small measure compared to what might happen if we have an outbreak. All of us still have the pictures of killing poultry in the back of our minds," De Leeuw said.


The tiny Netherlands, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, has seen its livestock sector become highly intensive in the past years, with most animals being raised in closed farms making them vulnerable to diseases.

The country, where land is scarce and canals, rivers and ditches are abundant, is home to 16 million people, over 90 million poultry, 11 million pigs and 1.5 million cows.

Surveillance and eradicating plans have been stepped up since the last bird flu crisis but officials fear that a repeat could damage the sector to a level impossible to recover from.

"Farmers told us it is very, very important to try to prevent another outbreak because they may not survive a second one," De Leeuw said.

The number of Dutch poultry is still well below the 104 million birds before the disease struck and meat production fell by 15-20 percent. The overall costs for the sector, including related businesses, reached some 400 million-500 million euros, according to the Dutch Agriculture Research Institute (LEI).

Strong competition from cheaper chicken meat from Brazil and low world prices also made it hard for the Dutch poultry sector to fully get back on its feet.


While the high density of farms increases the risk of disease spreading in the Netherlands, the threat is seen as smaller than in Asia, where the highly virulent H5N1 strain has led to the death of 140 million birds.

The world animal health body OIE says Europe is well set to limit the risk because farm structures are different and the probability of contact with wild birds is smaller than in Asia.

Some 90 Dutch people contracted the H7 avian flu strain in the 2003 outbreak, one of whom died of pneumonia. There are no infected people in Russia yet but the H5N1 virus has killed 63 people in Asia so far.

Scientists fear the virus could kill millions of people worldwide if it mutates and acquires the ability to pass easily from human to human. Dutch farmers are on the alert too.

"We are hearing it's the bad virus in Russia. The last time it killed one person in the Netherlands but if it turns into a pandemic we'll be in big trouble," Van Lierop said.

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Avian-flu vaccine research makes new progress in Thailand

Thailand's research on bird-flu vaccine for animals has shown progress by killing the H5N1 strain of the virus, according to The Nation newspaper.

The DNA-based vaccine was found in laboratory trials to have stimulated cell-mediated immunity (CMI) on CD8 T-cell receptors, which are associated with stimulating the immune system to kill the virus, Kamol Chaweewan, a researcher responsible for vaccine-development, was quoted by the newspaper as saying Wednesday.

However, he said the vaccine's effectiveness on CD4 T-cell receptors to stimulate the virus-eradication mechanism remains unclear and needs further study.

So far, Thailand has yet to allow the use of any vaccine on poultry, but it is really a necessity to develop one as an alternative measure to contain bird flu, said Associate Professor Suviroj Rojanasathien of Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Composed of HA and NA proteins, the DNA vaccine tended to be effective in uprooting the virus from infected mice, but it may fail to protect them from contracting it, the researcher said.

Advantages of the new vaccine include lower production costs, better and longer-lasting immune-system stimulation, longer shelf life and safe use, according to Kamol.

He added final results of the trial need to be proved through more advanced laboratory facilities that can not be found in Thailand.

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Bird flu pandemic a question of when, not if

The world is going to face a pandemic of the bird flu strain lethal to humans and Thailand is the only nation in South and Southeast Asia ready to deal with it, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Wednesday.

WHO officials said the virus could mutate into a form that could pass easily from one human to another, making it easier for it to spread rapidly across great distances and kill between one million and seven million people worldwide.

"We may be at almost the last stage before the pandemic virus may emerge," Dr. Jai P. Narain, Director of WHO's communicable diseases department told a news conference on the sidelines of a Southeast Asia health summit in the Sri Lankan capital.

"Whether the avian influenza pandemic will occur, that is not the question any more, (but) as to when the pandemic will occur," he added.

"So far there is only one country in Southeast Asia with a pandemic preparedness plan ... Thailand... They have a stockpile of anti-viral drugs," Narain said. "At the same time we are in dialogue with our member countries. We are in the process of preparing this pandemic preparedness plan."

The deadly bird flu virus, now feared to be heading for Europe, killed one person in Vietnam last week, taking the number of deaths in Asia from the disease to 63.

The death took Vietnam's bird flu death toll to 44, with 23 of the victims dying since the virus returned in December 2004, after sweeping through much of Asia in late 2003.

It has also killed at least 12 people in Thailand, four in Cambodia, three in Indonesia and has struck six Russian regions and Kazakhstan, causing the deaths of nearly 14,000 fowl.

Narain said migrating birds posed a serious risk of spreading avian flu around the world and Asia was very vulnerable as winter approaches.

"It is no longer poultry. We are concerned about a whole range of bird species," Narain said.

"The virus has been detected in migratory birds in some former Soviet states where the these birds traditionally fly towards Asia to escape the cold winter months," he added.

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Sauna to keep bird flu at bay

Saunas are a favourite haunt of athletes seeking out a good sweat, but officials in Finland are now recommending the steam room as a way of keeping the deadly bird flu out of the Nordic country.

The agriculture ministry has advised travellers to areas hard-hit by the disease to disinfect themselves in the high temperatures of the sauna.

"We issued a general recommendation for poultry producers to prevent the spread of the virus with the sauna," said ministry expert Sirpa Kiviruusu.

The government urged travellers returning from places in southeastern Asia, where the virus has claimed 61 lives, and Russia, where numerous poultry farms have been infected, to disinfect their clothing, shoes and luggage in a sauna.

Total immunity not guaranteed

"This is very efficient way of destroying the virus, which cannot survive high temperatures. For clothes, you need 70 degrees Celsius for three hours," Kiviruusu said.

"You don't necessarily want to burn your clothes and therefore the sauna is a good way of killing the virus,? she added.

While the recommendation would be difficult to follow in many countries, in Finland, which boasts two million saunas for just over five million inhabitants, it's a piece of cake.

The agriculture ministry emphasized however that sauna disinfection does not guarantee total immunity from the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus that began spreading to humans in 2003.

Finland recently experienced its first bird flu scare when gulls in the northwest showed signs of the virus. On closer study however, it turned out that the birds were suffering from a strain of the virus harmless to humans.

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Dutch Quarantine Chickens From Bird Flu; Farmers Say Bad Idea

Dutch farmer Jan Hol says his chickens, forced indoors by government efforts to protect them from bird flu, may peck each other to death from anxiety.

"I have to give my chickens a lot of extra attention," said Hol, 63, who farms 8,000 free-range hens in the central village of Beneden-Leeuwen. "I want to avoid the dangerous pecking."

The Netherlands last month ordered its 5.6 million free-range and organically raised hens to be kept inside as the government tries to stem the spread of a deadly strain of bird flu from countries including Russia and Kazakhstan.

The 650 million-euro ($790 million) Dutch chicken industry is the only one among the 25 European Union members to keep birds isolated. The last bird flu outbreak in the country, in 2003, led to the slaughter of 25 million fowl, about a third of the total. The lockup may prompt fighting among the chickens and a mortality rate as high as 30 percent, said Thea Fiks-van Niekerk of Wageningen University & Research Centre.

"With confinement, the danger they'll start pecking each other is much higher," said Fiks-van Niekerk, part of the animal research group at the Dutch university, which is based in the city of Wageningen. "If this happens, it will easily turn into cannibalism, with high mortality," she said Aug. 30.

Dutch Minister of Agriculture Cees Veerman on Aug. 22 instituted the outdoors ban, which affects about 400 Dutch farms, because of concern migratory birds may bring the virus to the Netherlands. The country is home to 86 million chickens. Veerman didn't say how long the directive would stay in force.

More Tests

Russia and Kazakhstan were added Aug. 8 to an EU list of nine nations from which poultry imports are banned after bird flu outbreaks. The EU said Aug. 25 it will closely monitor the situation to avert an outbreak. French authorities said on Aug. 30 the country will build up vaccine and medicine stocks.

The EU plans to carry out more sampling on migratory waterfowl that could host the virus. The bloc's annual budget for diseases control is about 300 million euros. It plans to make 1.2 million euros available for the additional testing of birds over the next 12 months.

"It is still very doubtful if migrating birds actually bring the virus with them to the Netherlands," said Chris Borren, the president of the Dutch Organic Poultry Association, which is based in the village town of Bennekom.

Albert Osterhaus, head of the department of virology at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, disagrees. Osterhaus was the first to discover that a 1997 Hong Kong flu strain belonged to an avian influenza strain called H5N1, and that H5N1 can jump from chickens to humans, according to New He said risks to the Netherlands are great.

`Permanent Risk'

"There is a permanent risk the annual migration of wild birds carrying the virus could infect free-range poultry," Osterhaus said in an interview on Aug. 30 "We are very worried about this."

Avian flu has infected more than 100 people in Asia and killed half of them since 2004. More than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in Asia on concern about the H5N1 strain.

The virus may infect pigs in a mutated form, said Wageningen University's Fiks-van Niekerk. There is no record of infection in other animals, she said.

Osterhaus said the cost to the Netherlands of the 2003 bird flu outbreak, culling and related measures was 300 million euros, and the decision to confine chickens was the right one.

Dutch farmer Bram Kroesbergen, 57, from the village of Ede, in the central Netherlands, said while he understood the reasons for the confinement, poultry will suffer.

"Chickens can get stressed out from sitting indoors all day," said Kroesbergen, who farms 3,000 organic hens. "A lot of farmers will get into trouble when their chickens start pecking each other."

Three Roosters

Temperamentally, chickens can be excitable and aggressive, according to the Web site of the University of Florida. Temperament varies with "management style," the site says.

In their 2002 study "Comfortable Quarters for Chickens in Research Institutions," researchers at the University of Kassel's faculty of agriculture, in Germany, said chickens are "easily frightened by sudden changes in their environment" and may respond with panic reactions. An outdoors area is "highly recommended," according to the study.

Farmer Hol offers some of his birds toys to keep them occupied. Among the favorite diversions: Coca-Cola bottles half filled with water which hang above the coops and rattle.

He's also throwing in other distractions.

"I have three roosters with them," Hol said. "That may keep them calm."


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Cockfighting pits pop star against bird flu

It's an unlikely subject for a hit pop song:

"Shot, shot, shot. Give the roosters a shot! Shot, shot, shot. Protect Thai people!" blares the peppy tune from Thai troubadour Ad Carabao.

Carabao's band rose to the top of the charts here by singing about the struggles of common people. His lyrics address the exploitation of low-wage workers, the issue of gay rights and most recently, the merits of his popular energy drink, Carabao Dang.

But seldom has he tackled a subject this dear to the hearts of his countrymen.

"Vaccinate roosters, to protect against their extinction," Ad sings in Vaccine for Life, a track on his latest CD, Big Mouth 5: Bird Flu, which has sold 100,000 copies so far.

"To kill chickens -- this must be a crazy or stupid policy!"

The object of Carabao's ire is a push by the government to quell the spread of deadly avian influenza by banning cockfights and exterminating some of the prized birds.

Bird flu has killed 12 people in Thailand, about 20 percent of worldwide fatalities. Fighting cocks have been implicated in at least two deaths.

But asking Thais to give up cockfighting is like asking Americans to abandon baseball.

Millions of Thais raise competitive birds, which can sell for as much as $20,000. Before bird flu, as many as 30 million people attended cockfights each year.

Carabao, who estimates he has raised 1,000 fighting cocks in his 50 years, has devoted himself to defending the sport. He poses for the covers of cockfighting magazines and produces concerts to stir the faithful. He heads the Association of Thai Fighting Cocks Career Promotion, which claims 100,000 members.

Carabao is the laid-back elder statesman of Thai rock 'n' roll. He lives at the center of a maze of poorly paved roads, peppered by fruit and soda stands, in the northeast corner of sprawling Bangkok, the capital. Carabao's country ranch includes a luxury home, a recording studio and many rows of rooster cages. He cruises the neighborhood on a Harley-Davidson.

Soon after bird flu struck in 2003 -- and the government began its campaign to kill or restrict cocks -- Carabao recognized a natural "pleng peua cheewit," or "song for life."

"Like Americans taking Viagra when their cuckoo bird stops cooing, take medicine when you have a headache," he sings in Vaccine for Life. "Why be afraid of bird flu?"

There is good reason to fear.

Thailand, once the fourth-largest chicken exporter in the world, is at the center of the epidemic. After initially underestimating the problem, the Thai government descended with a vengeance.

More than 40 million chickens and waterfowl were exterminated in an effort to contain the virus. Surveillance teams checked birds nationwide. Border police cracked down on bird smuggling from Cambodia.

Fighting cocks, which travel from stadium to stadium, are a prime government target.

The Khonlehodai arena in Suphan Buri is just a few miles from where Carabao grew up. This is the heart of cockfighting country. It is also the heart of Thailand's bird flu outbreak, having lost more birds to the disease than any other region.

The Thai government has tried a variety of schemes to quell the epidemic short of simply slaughtering every chicken and duck in the country.

Officials proposed tracking roosters with microchips under the skin, to see if their movement around the nation paralleled flu outbreaks. Cock passports -- listing age, weight, birthplace and a certification of being flu-free -- are being phased in for all fighting cocks.

It's futile.

"There are millions and millions of chickens," said Kloy Mahoran, a retired civil servant, as he waited for a bout at Suphan Buri with his top fighter, Greeny. "There is no way they can keep their eyes on every one."


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Thai villagers join bird flu rapid reaction force

The Ban Yanyao farmers meeting under the shade of a jumpa tree to protect themselves from the tropical midday sun form an unlikely vanguard of a taskforce to stop a bird flu pandemic claiming tens of millions of lives around the world.

Few have more than a basic education, none have travelled far outside their province of Suphanburi, 85 miles north of Bangkok, and none know much about the world outside Thailand.

But they do have an intimate knowledge of the people and animals in their village. "We'd know within a day if someone caught a cold, let alone came down with something like bird flu," said Prasert Somprasong.

This information, plus the training given to 750,000 similar volunteers across Thailand, is likely to make the difference to whether a pandemic is contained, experts say.

"The world has to get ready for a pandemic because the behaviour of the virus can't be predicted and the movement of birds can't be controlled," said Carolyn Benigno, the head of Asia surveillance operations for the UN food and agriculture organisation (FAO). "The first step in that process is to have a proper surveillance system."

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 62 people in south-east Asia since emerging in Vietnam in December 2003, and resulted in the deaths of 140 million birds. It recently appeared suddenly in Russia and Kazakhstan, a westward jump of hundreds of miles from the nearest outbreak in western China.

The EU is now assessing its readiness to handle infections. The Netherlands has already ordered all free-range birds to be moved inside.

William Aldis, the head of the World Health Organisation in south-east Asia, says although he does not want to be accused of scaremongering, he believes it is likely to be only a matter of time before the world faces a huge bird flu outbreak.

"The biological and epidemiological evidence strongly supports the probability that an avian-derived virus will cause a global pandemic," he said. "But whether that will happen from H5N1 or in the next few years no one knows."

The main elements of successful containment are thorough surveillance leading to rapid reporting, speedy and accurate diagnosis, swift distribution of treatment to contain the flu's spread, and a stockpile of at least 3m courses of the main antiviral drug, oseltamivir.

This would be followed by the production of a human vaccine as quickly as possible, something that cannot be done in advance since the precise nature of the pandemic-causing virus would not be known until it emerges. This is likely to take up to six months.

Mr Aldis says any country could do well to study Thailand's plans. Besides retraining the network of health and livestock volunteers, the government has increased the number of diagnostic labs from one to 13 and started stockpiling oseltamivir.

"In our planning we expect the volunteers to report any outbreak within a day or two and that we [in central government] would be informed within one to two days of that," said Supamit Shunsuttiwaat, an expert in disease control at the ministry of public health. "The idea is, it will take about 24 hours to confirm it's an H5N1 infection; we would investigate for one to two days, and then take appropriate action."

In Thailand's latest outbreak of animal bird flu, in Yanyao, it was just over a week from when the first birds started dying to the government's rapid response team descending on the village.

The biggest weakness in the Thai plan is the lack of a drug stockpile. Dr Supamit estimates Thailand will have about 70,000 courses of Tamiflu, the oseltamivir brand made by Roche, by the end of the year and will steadily increase from there. Last week Roche agreed to build up a reserve of 3m courses of the drug for use by the World Health Organisation. The stockpile is expected to be ready by the middle of next year.

There is consensus that any pandemic is most likely to start in south-east Asia, since bird flu is endemic in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam. It is in the latter three countries, which are less prepared, that the problems really lie.

In Indonesia the response after the latest human outbreak in July, in which three people died, shows there is not even the full political will to tackle the problem, according to Dr Soedarmono of the Indonesian agriculture ministry's animal health directorate.

"We wanted to do more in-depth research, but the local authorities blocked us because they said the local community was too nervous and might panic," Dr Soedarmono said.

This outbreak in Indonesia is particularly worrying because it occurred in an urban area: the town of Tangerang, 12 miles west of the capital, Jakarta, where there are no fowl. The nearest infected animals, ducks and pigs were 15 miles away, but their owners had not fallen ill.

"None of us have any idea how they got infected," said Sunaryo, the head of the neighbourhood where the victims lived. "There are no chickens here and no one else fell ill. It remains a mystery."

Mr Aldis says these three deaths, the first in such circumstances, "turned on its head everything that has been considered the norm as regards a likely outbreak".

"Up till now the assumption has been that [any pandemic] is going to happen in an isolated rural population," he said. "If it happens in an urban centre we're dead meat. There's not much we can do."

Wantanee Kalpravidh, the head of the FAO's south-east Asia surveillance mission, said: "If you ask us when we will have a complete picture of the disease ... Well, let me say we're always on the move with bird flu."

As far as eradicating it is concerned, Dr Kalpravidh says: "In the global strategy, we're working on 10 years."

Experts say although the west should not neglect its defences, it should focus on helping south-east Asia to prepare. "The smaller area a pandemic can be contained in the better," said a Thai microbiologist, Praset Auewarakul.

"A very possible scenario is that it will be slowed but not contained in south-east Asia. But by the time the virus gets to western countries it could well become resistant to Tamiflu."

The FAO's Dr Benigno agrees. "We would rather the resources be spent over at the likely source than kept back for national defences," she said.

Dr Supamit estimates Thailand has spent about £100m on containing bird flu and preparing for a pandemic. At a summit this year the UN received pledges of about half that for the whole world.

Hundreds of millions of pounds are therefore still needed. In a study on strategies to contain a pandemic published last month, Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London wrote: "A feasible strategy for containment of the next pandemic offers global benefits in potentially preventing millions of deaths.

"It is therefore in the interest of all countries to contribute to ensuring the resources, infrastructure and collaborative relationships are in place within the region currently most likely to be the source of a new pandemic."

Dr Aldis says: "If it doesn't happen, then hopefully the measures we're putting in place will mean we're better prepared for the next disease when it comes along."

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New bird flu outbreak contained in Thailand

Local authorities have acted promptly to contain a new bird flu outbreak in Kamphaeng Phet, announcing that an outbreak identified in four districts has been contained.

The provincial governor and local health officials visited Ban Sabmanao in Klongthalung district to cull chickens and spray disinfectant after native chickens in the village were found to beinfected with the H5N1 avian flu virus.

Provincial animal husbandry officials were quoted by the Thai News Agency as saying Friday that the province has enforced preventive measures to ban moving poultry in the four districts.

The cause of the new outbreak may be the movement of fighting cocks from other areas where they had contracted the disease, the official said.

There is no report of the deadly disease in chickens raised in closed farming system or free-range ducks, he added.

The poultry have been under close surveillance and free-range ducks are registered with the authorities.

Leaders get first flu shots

THE Prime Minister and his Cabinet head a list of elite people who will get preferential access to life-saving anti-viral shots if an avian flu pandemic hits Australia.

A leaked Health Department document details the controversial priority list for the shots, devised by a senior medical committee.

Anti-virals ease the effects of the flu, but Australia's stocks only run to 3.8 million doses and they are expensive to make.

Also on the priority list are state premiers, senior bureaucrats, judges and funeral parlour workers.

Others to be protected first will include police and workers in Australia's health services, in water and power, telecommunications, sewerage, and those making vaccines..

And Australian Broadcasting Corporation staff are on the list.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor John Horvath, said the list was devised to ensure people who carried out critical functions were protected.

"The nation's leaders are the most important of all," Dr Horvath said.

"At the end of the day there's got to be someone to make the decisions.

"And the media – but not all of the media – will be terribly important in the event of pandemic..

Australia's military leaders had their own system to protect themselves, Dr Horvath said.

Medical officials fear the deadly avian flu virus now spreading throughout the world could mutate and infect humans, sparking a pandemic – a deadly global infection without an immediate cure.

A new variant of the virus, H5N1, has killed more than 50 people in Asia.

The lethality of the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, which killed an estimated 40 million to 50 million people, continues to worry health professionals.

The World Health Organisation estimates up to 100 million could die in a pandemic, while in Australia more than 2.5 million would get the flu and up to 13,000 die.

The anti-viral drugs are the first line of defence before vaccines can be developed.

"In the absence of vaccines, anti-virals are the only medical intervention for providing protection against disease and some therapeutic benefit in those who are ill," the pandemic action plan says.

Australia has the largest stock of anti-viral drugs in the world, but still has only about 3.8 million doses.

It is estimated they could protect federal and state governments and a million essential workers for six weeks.

Australia could use three types of anti-viral drugs: Tamiflu, Relenza and Symmetrel.

The UK also has a pandemic plan which would protect the PM, Cabinet, and officials at the BBC first.

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Suspected bird flu case in Finland harmless for humans

Finland's first suspected case of bird flu, found in gulls in the northwest of the country last week, has turned out to be without risks for humans, the Finnish agriculture ministry said.

The findings alleviate fears that Europe had been struck by a strain of the virus lethal to humans, H5N1, which has killed 61 people in southeastern Asia since 2003 and affected numerous poultry farms across Russia.

The flu found in the seagulls in the northwestern town of Oulu is of the H13 strain of the virus, local agriculture ministry expert Sirpa Kiviruusu told AFP.

'It does not affect human beings and the molecular sequencing shows it is a low pathogenic,' she said.

The analysis of the virus was carried out by a British laboratory.

'These are (preliminary) results but they should not change,' Kiviruusu said.

Ever since 2002, Finland has systematically conducted blood tests on poultry and analyzed feathers gathered from wild birds.

Bird flu ebbs in Russia, Kazakhstan, may relapse

The outbreak of the bird flu strain dangerous to humans was dying out in sprawling ex-Soviet neighbours Kazakhstan and Russia thanks to quarantine and cold weather in border regions, officials said on Friday.

But Russia's chief veterinary inspector warned the disease could surface elsewhere in the world next spring and asked the United States and Europe to help monitor the routes of migratory wild fowl that may carry the virus from Russia.

"Such a programme could give information about the spread of the virus in Europe, Asia and the Americas in 2006 and to work out measures aimed at preventing domestic poultry from being infected," Yevgeny Nepoklonov said in a letter to his counterparts abroad.

Many nations worldwide have banned imports of poultry and animal feed from Russia and Kazakhstan, which share the world's longest land border, after the virulent H5N1 strain dangerous to humans was detected and started to spread last month. "One can say with certainty that the peak of the bird flu is over in Kazakhstan now," Talgat Abulgazin, the head of Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry's veterinary disease monitoring department, told a news conference.

Veterinary and emergencies ministry officials in both countries said not a single human had contracted the infection.

"August, when the disease was at its peak, was the hottest month," Abulgazin said. "But right now we have a cold spell which makes the bird flu strain less virulent."


Russia's Federal Consumers' Rights and Welfare Service said late on Thursday bird flu of H5N1 strain had been discovered in 47 localities in six Russian Siberian and Urals regions. Of 100 localities originally under observation, 80 remain so.

A statement issued by Russia's Emergencies Ministry on Friday said no new cases of bird flu had been reported in the last 24 hours. A total of 139,000 birds had been culled to prevent the disease from spreading.

Russia's agriculture ministry said veterinaries had confirmed bird flu in another locality in the Tyumen region, already hit by the virus. Quarantine had been lifted from seven locations, a ministry statement said, without naming them.

Abulgazin of Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry said quarantine had been lifted in four of the seven villages close to Russia's Siberian regions where the dangerous flu strain had been detected earlier. A total of 13,438 fowl had been culled.

He said that the 10 wild ducks, gulls and other birds found dead in a nature reserve in southern Kazakhstan had actually died from a different bird disease which was not dangerous.

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Bird flu kills a Vietnamese, emergency plan at work

The deadly bird flu virus, now feared heading for Europe, has killed a Vietnamese, taking the number of deaths in Asia from the disease to 63, a senior official said on Thursday.

The victim, whose gender was not disclosed, died from acute pneumonia on Sunday and tests showed the H5 component of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in the body, the Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Deputy Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan as saying.

The victim was from Soc Son, a district on the outskirts of Hanoi, but the government has not spotted any outbreaks in poultry in August, Huan said.

The death was announced as Agriculture and Health Ministry officials said they were finalizing details of an emergency plan to tackle a flu pandemic, which international health officials fear could erupt if the H5N1 virus mutates.

Now, it cannot pass easily from human to human, but the World Health Organization has been warning for more than a year that the virus could mutate into a form that could do so.

If that happens, millions of people without immunity could die, it says.

The WHO has urged governments to prepare for such an eventuality. Vietnam, which has had more human deaths from the H5N1 virus than anywhere else, was preparing plans for various scenarios, the state-run Tien Phong newspaper reported.

"Vietnam is vaccinating poultry so there is a great infection risk involving the H5N1 virus jumping from poultry to humans," the newspaper quoted the Health Ministry as saying.

There have been no reports so far of people contracting the virus from vaccinated poultry.

Animal health officials said they were meeting on Thursday to review the vaccination campaign using Chinese and Dutch vaccines in the provinces of Nam Dinh and Tien Giang.

This month, the government will expand the vaccination campaign to target 60 million fowl at small-scale farms nationwide, said Anton Rychener, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Vietnam.

The government aims to complete vaccinations by November 15, before the onset of winter when the virus seems to thrive best.

The latest human death took Vietnam's bird flu toll to 44, with 23 of the victims dying since the virus returned in December 2004, after sweeping through much of Asia in late 2003.

It has also killed at least 12 people in Thailand, four in Cambodia, three in Indonesia and has struck six Russian regions and Kazakhstan, causing the deaths of nearly 14,000 fowl.

The FAO said on Wednesday that migrating birds posed a serious risk of spreading avian flu around the world, including Western Europe.

The spread into central Asian and toward eastern Europe has fueled fears about the mobility of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.

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