Thursday, August 31, 2006

Biologists test for bird flu in Alaska

(Aug 31, 2006) Hundreds of kilometres above the Arctic Circle, biologists working in the frosty marshes of Alaska's North Slope are keeping a lookout for migratory birds that might bring a deadly avian flu strain to the United States.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, visiting a bird nesting site outside Barrow, reported on Tuesday that 13,000 bird samples have been tested. While some less virulent forms of the flu were found, there has been no sign of the deadly H5N1 strain, linked to the death of at least 141 people, mostly in Asia.

"I think it's going very well," Kempthorne said after he helped a volunteer biologist gather a test sample from a young Dunin shorebird at a site on Beaufort Sea, near the northernmost point in the United States.

The fowl offspring's parents likely flew here from Japan or Korea, Audrey Taylor, the volunteer, told Kempthorne.

Deborah Rocque, the bird flu testing coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, said the programme is concentrating on testing on the North Slope and the Yukon Delta. Both are areas where tens of thousands of migratory birds nest in the summer after arriving from Asia.

"Some go straight back to Asia and some go right down the Pacific Flyway," Rocque said. (from

Questions surround China bird flu vaccine

(Aug 31, 2006) China is working on a bird flu vaccine for humans and initial test results suggest it is safe and effective, but a leading expert is treating the news with caution, saying more details and independent checks are needed.

Government-backed Beijing Sinovac Biotech Co. said this week it had developed a H5N1 vaccine for humans, using a strain of the virus that had been found in recent years in Vietnam.

In the first clinical trial that ended in June, 120 volunteers were injected with the experimental vaccine and none showed "serious adverse reactions". Their blood and urine showed the vaccine was safe for human use, Sinovac said in a statement.

Four different dosages of the vaccine were used, but the one with 10 micrograms appeared to be most effective, stimulating 78.3 percent of protective antibodies. The company gave no other details on the vaccines.

But an expert greeted the news with caution and asked if independent laboratories had carried out tests for antibodies. "

Lots of tests are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of any experimental vaccine," said microbiologist Guan Yi at the University of Hong Kong, who has studied the virus since it made its first known jump to humans in Hong Kong in 1997. "

Vaccines made elsewhere have to be tested and verified by dozens of independent laboratories at every stage. This is the acceptable standard," he said.

The Chinese vaccine was jointly developed by the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and supported by China's Ministry of Science and Technology.

Pharmaceutical companies around the world are trying to develop a vaccine for the H5N1 virus, which experts fear could mutate into a form that can pass easily among humans, possibly killing millions. For the moment, the virus remains essentially a disease in birds.

Flu viruses mutate constantly and experts fear that any pre-pandemic vaccine that is designed now might not confer enough protection against the eventual pandemic strain, if it emerges.


Questions surround the positive test results from China.

"How many of the participants developed antibodies?" Guan asked.

He questioned the rationale for using the Vietnam strain as a basis for the vaccine because different strains are circulating in Indonesia, northern China, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"This strain is different from the one in Indonesia and new ones that have emerged in other places," Guan said, calling for a more systematic and mature criteria on selecting the vaccine strain and the manufacturing process.

"The vaccine could bring a small reaction for other H5N1 strains, it won't be completely ineffective. But when you create a vaccine, you try to make one that confers the most widespread protection, but the coverage of this one is narrow," he said.

Sinovac, meanwhile, has plans to refurbish and expand its existing plant for seasonal flu vaccine to produce up to 20 million doses a year of pandemic flu vaccine from 2007. (from Reuters)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New test speeds diagnosis of lethal avian influenza strains

(Aug 29, 2006) In an advance that speeds up diagnosis of the most dangerous avian flu, scientists have developed a detailed influenza test that takes less than 12 hours, U.S. health officials said.

The new technology, a microchip covered with bits of genetic material from many different flu strains, cuts the typical time needed for diagnosis of the H5N1 flu to less than a day from a week or more. In addition, rather than giving just a yes-or-no result, it usually reveals which flu a human or an animal has.

That means that public health officials investigating, for example, a flu outbreak in poultry or in humans in a remote Asian or African village will be able to decide quickly whether to kill thousands of birds or to treat hundreds of potentially exposed people with expensive antiviral drugs.

Right now, ascertaining whether a flu is of the lethal H5N1 strain requires that a sample be frozen and shipped to a highly secure laboratory, usually in a major city like Atlanta or Hong Kong, where the virus can be grown in eggs, isolated and genetically sequenced. That process takes four to five days plus shipping time and runs the risk of samples defrosting in transit and being ruined.

The new test, called FluChip, can be performed in any laboratory that can amplify bits of genetic material; many countries have such laboratories in their national capitals, if not in provincial hospitals. Samples need not be frozen, and because only bits of genetic material are multiplied rather than whole viruses, the work can be done in laboratories with lower biosecurity levels.

Nancy Cox, chief of the influenza branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said Monday that the chip "really allows us to get a lot of information about a virus in a short time."

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which announced the creation of the test, called it an "encouraging advance" that could be "invaluable to international flu surveillance efforts."

William Karesh, chief field veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society, who led a 2005 expedition to Mongolia to track the lethal avian flu virus as it first moved out of Asia in migrating wild birds, said the new test "sounds fabulous."

"It could be an incredibly powerful tool," Karesh said.

A more advanced version to be used in the field may be ready within two years, said Kathy Rowlen, a University of Colorado chemistry professor who led the team that developed the test.

At present, animal and human health experts trying to fight avian flu in remote areas are forced to make important decisions based largely on guesses because it is too risky to wait a week for a laboratory to confirm that a highly dangerous virus is loose.

In recent tests, the technology correctly identified 72 percent of samples and partly identified an additional 13 percent, according to the disease centers.

Also, as the flu mutates, Cox said, stretches of RNA from newly emerging strains could be added.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, called the chip "good news, because it clearly moved ahead the diagnostic tools we have." It also has the potential to speed up mass testing because dozens of samples can be tested on dozens of chips at once. (from the New York Times)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

No sign of Asian bird flu in Michigan swans

(Aug 29, 2006) Bird flu found in a wild swan in Michigan was not the deadly Asian strain that has ravaged poultry and killed at least 141 people worldwide, the Agriculture Department said on Monday.

Final tests confirmed the swan had a mostly harmless, low-pathogenic strain of the H5N1 virus, officials said.

Authorities found bird flu in two mute swans Aug. 14, but only one of the samples had high enough levels of flu to allow confirmatory tests. Earlier genetic analysis ruled out the more virulent Asian strain in both birds.

The low-grade strain has been found many times in North American wild birds and poses no threat to people, the department said. Confirmatory tests were done by the department's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

The swans were the first reported in the government's effort to test as many as 100 000 wild birds to determine if the virulent Asian H5N1 strain has arrived in North America. Officials expect the virus to reach the continent this year.

The sampling was expanded earlier this month from Alaska to the entire US. Among the first targets were 20 mute swans from a game area in Monroe County, Michigan. Testing found the possibility of H5N1 in two of the swans.

Any finding of highly pathogenic H5N1 in wild birds in the US would prompt more intensive monitoring and extra security measures to protect commercial poultry flocks from infection.

Deadly, highly pathogenic strains spread rapidly and are usually fatal to chickens and turkeys, the department said, while low pathogenic H5N1 generally causes little sign of sickness in birds.

Since 2003, the virulent H5N1 strain has been blamed for the death or destruction of millions of birds overseas. Nearly all the people who have been infected had close contact with sick birds or their droppings. However, scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that is spread easily among humans. (from

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bird Flu Infects Child, Marking 60th Indonesian Case

(Aug. 23 2006) Indonesia reported its 60th human case of bird flu after a 6-year-old girl tested positive for the virus, which has killed an average of one person a week in the country this year.

The girl, from Bekasi in West Java, developed symptoms Aug. 6 and is being treated in an isolation ward at Sulianti Saroso Hospital in Jakarta, Runizar Ruesin, head of the health ministry's avian flu information center, said in a phone interview today. Dead birds were recorded in the girl's neighborhood, indicating a possible source of her infection.

Medical and animal health officials are struggling to arrest the H5N1 avian flu strain, which has spread to fowl in 80 percent of Indonesia's 33 provinces. Diseased birds risk infecting humans and create chances for the virus to mutate into a pandemic form that may kill millions of people.

"The situation in Indonesia is of concern from a public health perspective,'' Laurence Gleeson, a regional manager with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization in Bangkok, said in an interview yesterday. Some people probably haven't heard the message about how to protect themselves from the disease.''

Since 2003, H5N1 is known to have infected 240 people in 10 countries, killing 141 of them, according to the World Health Organization. Almost all human H5N1 cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds, such as children playing with them or adults butchering them or plucking feathers, according to the Geneva-based agency.

Majority of Fatalities

This year, 64 people in nine countries are confirmed to have died from H5N1, with more than half the fatalities occurring in Indonesia. The virus has killed four of every five people infected with the disease in the Southeast Asian nation.

Health authorities are awaiting test results on a 35-year- old woman from the Simalungun regency in North Sumatra province who is suspected to have been infected by diseased chickens, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told reporters in Jakarta today. The woman developed symptoms of cough and high fever on Aug. 21, Supari said.

The Indonesian government is starting a new campaign next week to warn of the dangers of handling sick or dead fowl before the rainy season starts, Bayu Krisnamurthi, secretary of a government-appointed committee on avian and pandemic flu, said yesterday. The cooler season increases the risk of flu, he said. (from

CDC publicizes genetic sequences of bird flu viruses

(Aug 23, 2006) U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday released genetic blueprints of over 650 genes of influenza viruses, including avian influenza H5N1, into a database accessible to researchers worldwide.

The action marks "the beginning of a collaboration ... that will allow for greater access to data on a variety of influenza virus samples obtained from patients in the United States including avian influenza H5N1 if it should arrive here," the agency said in a statement.

The sequence information, which is like a DNA fingerprint of each virus, allows researchers to determine more about a virus' origin and to compare it to other influenza viruses.

It will help scientists determine whether the virus is susceptible to antiviral drugs and, in the case of avian influenza currently circulating in many parts of the world, to assess whether it's changing to make the virus more easily transmissible among people -- a key property the virus would need to acquire, to spark a pandemic.

In addition, the sequence information could be used to better identify the strains that should be included in the annual flu vaccine, CDC said,adding that it expected to provide genetic information for several hundred influenza viruses every year to encourage more research on influenza.

"With more information, the world's influenza experts can advance our understanding of the viruses circulating, potentially create new prevention strategies and treatments, and ultimately help us better protect the health of people around the world," said Nancy Cox, director of the CDC's Influenza Division.

"We hope these initiatives will set the stage for other countries to adopt similar approaches to the release of influenza virus sequence data that they manage," Cox said.

The sequence data will be available in nearly real time through Genbank, a public-access internet library for virus sequences managed by U.S. National Institutes of Health, and through an influenza database, housed at the Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Previously, the influenza sequences were available to a small number of influenza researchers, who worked together with the World Health Organization to recommend which influenza viruses should be included in influenza vaccines around the world. (from Xinhua)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

China dismisses UN bird flu report

(Aug 21, 2006) China has dismissed a UN report claiming that recent bird flu outbreaks in Thailand and Laos were caused by a strain of the virus from in China.

The People's Daily website quoted the agriculture ministry as saying the UN report was groundless and irresponsible.

Last week the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said outbreaks in a Thai province and near the Laotian capital Vientiane were caused by a strain that originated in China and had not been seen in that region before.

The agriculture ministry said China had not exported any poultry products to Thailand or Laos since 2004 when China first reported an outbreak of the H5N1 virus in its poultry.

The H5N1 virus has killed about 140 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003. (from NZ Herald)

Bird flu claims new Indonesian victim

(Aug 20, 2006) An Indonesian woman who died just hours after being rushed to a hospital last week tested positive for bird flu, and 12 other people from her home town have also been infected with the deadly H5N1 virus, a senior health official said Sunday.

"Yes, it's confirmed - bird flu," Nyoman Kandun, director-general of the Indonesian Health Ministry, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The 35-year-old woman, Euis Lina, came from Cikelet subdistrict in West Java province, where a 9-year-old girl also died from the virus while 12 others are recovering.

Lina is Indonesia's 46th bird flu fatality, which is the highest in the world. Vietnam has 42 deaths, but has not recorded one this year, while Indonesia has 34.

Bird flu is endemic in 27 of Indonesia's 33 provinces with millions of chickens and ducks infected.
International health experts said they fear that H5N1, the strain of the virus that has been deadly in humans, could mutate into a virus that can spread from human to human and spark a pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people.

Bird flu in Indonesia grabbed the world's attention in May when seven members of a single family on Sumatra Island died of the virus - the largest recorded cluster to date. The World Health Organization concluded that limited human-to-human transmission probably occurred, but the virus did not spread beyond the family members. (from

Sunday, August 20, 2006

WHO: Bird flu viruses diversifying, making vaccine target harder to pick

(Aug 19, 2006) The World Health Organization urged influenza vaccine makers Friday to use newer strains of virus when making vaccine to protect against H5N1 avian flu, saying the evolution of the microbe has led to increased variety in circulating strains.

While the diversity creates challenges for vaccine manufacturers - and potentially additional costs for the governments paying them to make and test vaccine against H5N1 - it does not mean the worrisome virus has moved closer to being able to spark a human flu pandemic, a senior official of the World Health Organization said.

"I don't think it's possible to interpret these kinds of changes in terms of whether the virus is moving closer to developing greater transmissibility properties among people," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, co-ordinator of the WHO's global influenza program.

"I think what it simply reflects is that influenza viruses have evolutionary pressures on them and they evolve. They change. And that's what we're seeing."

Experts who have studied numerous samples of the virus have suggested nothing in them points to the development of mutations that would increase H5N1's ability to infect people and spread among them.

But an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota questioned whether the scientific community knows enough about how influenza viruses adapt to a human host to be sure it would recognize it if H5N1 were on that path.

"What does it mean for an influenza strain today to be more adapted towards human-to-human transmission?" Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, wondered.

He said he was not suggesting the virus is becoming more transmissible, only that the patterns that would lead to that end aren't defined.

With the spread of the virus to many different countries, sublineages of H5N1have emerged, each with distinct genetic properties. It's been known for at least a year that the viruses break down roughly into two families or "clades."

Clade 1 viruses have circulated in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam and caused human infections in those countries during 2004 and 2005. Clade 2 viruses circulated in birds in China and Indonesia in 2003 and 2004 and have since spread westward through the Middle East, Russia, Europe and Africa.

It is the clade 2 viruses that have caused most of the human H5N1 cases that have occurred since last 2005. And it is with representative samples from these viral strains that the WHO is now recommending vaccine makers work.

The Geneva-based agency isn't recommending work on vaccines made with the earlier strain - a virus isolated in Vietnam in early 2004 - be abandoned. At least a dozen companies are working on vaccine based on that seed strain.

Fukuda said there is an upside to working with additional virus types. The more practice manufacterers have working with the virus, the better placed they will be to move quickly to make a vaccine should H5N1 become a pandemic strain.

"To be able to work with more than one strain of H5 vaccine just gives the manufacturers that much of a leg up in terms of the experience that they may need later on," he said.

Since the current outbreak of H5N1 flu erupted in late 2003, at least 239 people have been infected with it and 140 of them have died. (from Canadian Press)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Indonesian Woman dies of suspected bird flu

(Aug 18, 2006) An Indonesian woman died of suspected bird flu in a village that has been hard hit by the disease, a hospital official said Friday, as health workers investigated a new possible cluster of the H5N1 virus.

Euis Lina died Thursday night - three hours after being admitted to Dr. Slamet Hospital in West Java province with symptoms of bird flu, said Yati Maryati, the hospital's director, who was awaiting laboratory test results to see if she had contracted the virus.

The woman was from Cikelet, a village 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of the capital Jakarta, where at least one person was killed by the disease and another sickened. Four other people died before tests could be taken to see if they had birdflu.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 140 people worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003 - 45 of them in Indonesia, the world's worst affected country, according to the World Health Organization. (from

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

China announces 21st bird flu death

(Aug 15, 2006) China has announced that another person has died from bird flu, The man was a farmer in the north-west region of Xinjiang.

China's Health Ministry says a 62-year-old man is the country's latest person to die from bird flu. He fell sick in June and died in July.

He is not believed to have had any contact with other infected people or outbreaks in poultry. (from

Monday, August 14, 2006

46 more suspected human bird-flu cases reported in Thailand

Forty-six more people were put under medical close watch after developing symptoms similar to bird flu illness, Public Health Minister Pinij Charusombat said on Sunday.

The 46 people were detected in 16 provinces during Saturday dawn to Sunday dawn, Pinij said.

Apart of the 46, 96 other people are awaiting lab results on whether their illness had caused by the fatal bird-flu virus. (from people's daily online)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Indonesian teenager tests positive for bird flu

AKARTA, Aug 12 - An Indonesian teenager has tested positive for bird flu according to local tests and is being treated in hospital, a senior health ministry official said on Saturday.

It was not clear if the 17-year-old youth from West Java had contact with sick fowl, the usual mode of transmission of the H5N1 bird flu virus that is endemic in poultry in nearly all of Indonesia's provinces.

The teenager had a fever and breathlessness, some of the symptoms of avian influenza that has killed 44 people in Indonesia since last year. Most of the human cases have occurred this year and Indonesia now has the world's highest death toll.

"We have one more positive case of avian influenza. This is the result from a health ministry laboratory and NAMRU," said another official, Nyoman Kandun, the health ministry's director-general of disease control, referring to the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit based in Jakarta. ( from Reuters)

Chinese Regime Admits First Bird Flu Death Was in 2003

CHINA–On August 8, the Chinese communist regime's Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that the death of a serviceman in November 2003 has been confirmed as an isolated case of highly pathogenic bird flu (H5N1). This is the earliest known death resulting from human bird flu infection in China, coming two years prior to the previous earliest known case.

The investigation of this bird flu victim who died three years ago was prompted by a report published by Chinese researchers in June of this year, which indicated that individual human bird flu deaths appeared in China as early as 2003 during the SARS outbreak period.

The victim in this case was a 24-year-old sergeant. In 2003, he displayed symptoms of fever and lung infection and went to a military hospital in Beijing for treatment. He died on November 25 of that same year. The hospital's diagnosis for the cause of death was SARS. Last month MOH re-examined specimens of the dead man's lungs, blood and tissue using laboratory tests. As a result, the hospital announced that it was the first death from highly pathogenic human bird flu in Mainland China.

As to whether the Communist regime has been concealing the bird flu epidemic situation in China, the World Health Organization did not wish to comment. However, the WHO's Beijing spokesperson indicated that they will not exclude the possibility that there are other concealed cases, and urged the Chinese MOH to reinvestigate any instances of unknown lung infection.

The new investigation began on June 22 this year when the New England Journal of Medicine published a report by the Chinese researchers who had reviewed a case of fever and lung infection that occurred at the end of November 2003, with unknown causes, and that it might be a case of bird flu. The report also pointed out that no SARS virus had ever been found in the body of this man although his cause of death was diagnosed as SARS, yet they found bird flu virus in the lung tissue specimen of the dead man.

Because the Communist regime took until May 2005 to notify WHO of the first human bird flu infection case in China, the report pushed back the occurrence of the first case in China by two years. WHO requested Beijing to verify and clarify.

Compelled by external pressure, China's MOH organized the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and China's Academy of Military Medical Science along with WHO's experts to cooperate and finally diagnosed the patient as a human bird flu infection case.

According to the BBC, one author who participated in this research report wrote a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine on June 21 and requested a withdrawal of this report without explanation. Using the excuse that the report had already been printed, the magazine rejected the request. (from

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cambodia seeks helps from Buddhist monks to fight bird flu

(Aug 10, 2006) Cambodia has enlisted the help of Buddhist monks and teachers in its drive to prevent a fresh outbreak of bird flu, the UN children's agency and government officials said. .

Six Cambodians have been killed by the deadly H5N1 virus and the kingdom is on high alert after new cases were discovered in neighbouring Laos and Thailand last month. ."Buddhist monks play an important role in helping to prevent bird flu by educating people about its danger," said Yim Voeunthan, secretary of state at the ministry of agriculture.

"Cambodian people respect monks the most and they will follow the monks' advice," he said, adding that monks have strong spiritual influence on people in rural areas. (from

H7N7 bird flu virus found in Netherlands

(Aug 9, 2006) Bird flu found on a central Dutch poultry farm this month is a mild form of the H7N7 strain of the virus, the Dutch agriculture ministry announced on Wednesday.

According to Dutch media, the virus is a "low pathogenic variety" which is not as dangerous as the strain that hit the country in 2003.

In 2003, the Netherlands was hit hard by an epidemic of the H7N7 strain which led to the cull of 25 million birds, about one quarter of the country's poultry population at the time. One veterinarian died.

Bird flu viruses are divided into subtypes and named on the basis of two proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin (H)and neuraminidase (N).

The H5N1 bird flu virus is potentially lethal to humans. H7 infection in humans is rare, but can occur among people who have direct contact with infected birds.

On August 1, the Netherlands reported that it had found traces of bird flu during routine testing at a poultry farm in Voorthuizen in the central Netherlands, but no sick animals have been found. (from

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

China confirms human bird flu case in 2003

(Aug 08, 2006) China confirmed on Tuesday that the country's first human case of the H5N1 bird flu virus in 2003 was two years earlier than originally reported, prompting the UN's health agency to call for greater transparency.

The case had spurred questions about whether there might have been other human H5N1 infections in China prior to what had been its first reported human case, near the end of 2005.

Eight Chinese researchers published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine in June saying a 24-year-old soldier, who was admitted to hospital in November 2003 for respiratory distress and pneumonia and later died, had been infected with H5N1. (from


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