Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Korea kills animals to fight bird flu

(Nov 29) Seoul (Agency reports) A second outbreak of the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu at another poultry farm has been confirmed by South Korean authorities; the farm is just 3 km from the first case in North Cholla province in the country's southwest.

According to the agriculture ministry, as many as 600 chickens have died but no people in or around both infected farms appear to have been infected; 6,000 chickens died in the first outbreak.

The officials say test results have shown that the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu was the culprit and strict quarantine measures have been imposed around the area.

The South Korean health ministry says all poultry within a 500 metre radius of the latest infected farm will be culled, this amounts to 236,000 poultry; 75,500 poultry have already been culled and 6.6 million eggs disposed of.

Authorities are also said to be considering culling as many as 600 cats and dogs living in the area despite the fact that no scientific evidence exists which indicates humans can catch bird flu from them, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, says the culling of such creatures is unnecessary.

The two farms lie directly under a flight path for migratory birds heading south from Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and are about 170 km south of Seoul.

There is widespread concern that other parts of South Korea might have also been hit and the situation is a setback for the country as this is the first outbreak of the deadly virus in three years.

That outbreak, between December 2003 and March 2004, resulted in 5.3 million birds being killed and over $1 billion being spent on preventing the spread of the disease.

At the time nine South Korean workers involved in the culling were infected with the H5N1 virus, but fortunately none developed major illnesses.

The vast majority of human bird flu cases involving the H5N1 virus have been linked to direct or indirect contact with infected fowl.

Indonesia said on Tuesday a 35-year-old woman died of the disease, bringing that country's death toll to 57, the highest for any nation.

H5N1 bird flu remains essentially a disease of birds and almost all those infected had been in close contact with diseased birds.

Since 2003, outbreaks have been confirmed in about 50 countries and territories and according to the World Health Organisation it has killed in excess of 150 since then and sickened another 260.

China has banned imports of poultry and poultry products from South Korea along with Japan.

Chinese authorities are also urging those provinces nearest to South Korea to monitor and penalise for the smuggling of poultry products across the borders and to intensify their efforts in combating the spread of the disease, by closely monitoring personnel and vehicles entering China.

New bird flu figures

Nov 29 (Reuters) - A 35-year-old woman died in Indonesia from H5N1 avian influenza on Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed on Wednesday.

The virus has killed 154 people since 2003, according to WHO. Some 200 million birds have died or been culled.

Following is a list of confirmed human cases of H5N1 from WHO in Geneva. Total cases include survivors.

Deaths /Total cases:

AZERBAIJAN 5 /8 CAMBODIA 6/ 6 CHINA 14 /21 DJIBOUTI 0 /1 EGYPT 7 /15 INDONESIA 57 /74 IRAQ 2/ 3 THAILAND 17 /25 TURKEY 4 /12 VIETNAM 42/ 93 TOTAL 154 /258

Initial testing usually takes a day or two to confirm if someone has H5N1. More detailed testing by government laboratories or those affiliated with the WHO can take a week or more.

The H5N1 virus remains mainly a virus of birds, but experts fear it could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person and sweep the world, killing millions within weeks or months.

So far, most human cases can be traced to direct or indirect contact with infected birds.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Awaiting Lengthy Lab Confirmation of Bird Flu Risks Treatment Delays, Studies Find

(Nove 26) Because detecting Avian flu with standard tests is so difficult and time-consuming, waiting for laboratory confirmation of an outbreak would cause dangerous treatment delays, according to new studies of two flu outbreaks.

The studies, published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, were of family clusters of flu cases in Turkey and Indonesia.

Rapid tests on nose and throat swabs failed every time, and in Turkey, so did all follow-up tests known as Elisas. The only tests that consistently worked were polymerase chain reaction tests, or PCRs, which can be done only in advanced laboratories and take several hours.

“It’ll be a disaster if we have to use PCRs for everybody,” said Dr. Anne Moscona, a professor of pediatrics and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “It just isn’t available at a whole lot of places.”

If the A(H5N1) flu mutates into a pandemic strain, rapid tests “will be really key,” she said.

The studies followed clusters in three families in Indonesia in 2005 and in what appears to have been one extended family near Dogubayazit, in eastern Turkey, in January. Case clusters particularly worry public health authorities because they raise the possibility that the flu is mutating to spread faster between people.

In the Indonesian cases, the authors, from Indonesia, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, concluded that human-to-human transmission had probably taken place in two of the three family clusters. In one case, a 38-year-old government auditor appeared to have caught the flu from his 8-year-old daughter or her 1-year-old sister. All three died; his wife and two sons did not get sick. No one in the family had any known contact with poultry, wild birds, animals or sick people, so the source was a mystery.

“But you can’t always tell what a young child has done,” said Dr. Tim Uyeki, a Centers for Disease Control flu specialist and an author of the study. “There’s no magical test, and you don’t always get a perfect explanation.”

The Dogubayazit cluster was a cause célèbre for some Internet flu-watchers following Turkish news reports in January. They contended that widespread human-to-human transmission seemed to be taking place, and that it may have begun at a banquet attended in late December by members of two related families named Ozcan and Kocyigit. The Turkish government and the World Health Organization did not link the cases or families and tentatively blamed birds for all transmission.

The studies showed how wide a net was cast: 290 people were tested at one hospital because they either had flu symptoms or contact with dying birds, or both. All were given the antiviral drug oseltamivir, which is also sold as Tamiflu, and about half were hospitalized. That accorded with health organization recommendations: widespread testing and use of antivirals, both to save lives and to snuff out any suspected outbreak of a mutant strain.

Only 10 came up positive on PCR tests, and 8 of those were confirmed by a World Health Organization laboratory. All were children; four died. The studies confirmed suspicions that the families were linked; 7 of the 8 children were related or lived near each other. The December banquet was not mentioned.

It was impossible to tell whether the other argument made by the Internet flu-watchers was correct: that poor testing and the oseltamivir had disguised the extent of the outbreak. But the lead author, Dr. Ahmet Faik Oner, a professor of medicine at Yuzuncu Yil University in Turkey, said in a telephone interview that he believed that there had been no human-to-human transmission because all the children had been in close contact with poultry within seven or fewer days before they fell ill and none of their parents or the hospital staff members that treated them had become sick.

Dr. Uyeki declined to comment on the Turkey outbreak, but said both studies lent support to the theory that some people were genetically more susceptible to the flu. (

Friday, November 24, 2006

New vaccine being tested offers protection against most avian flu strains

(Nov 22) SINGAPORE : A new vaccine that promises protection against a wide range of avian influenza virus has been developed.

The vaccine which is produced using a cell-based technology is still in its early phase of clinical trials.

The bird flu virus has been detected in many countries - mostly in Asia such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand with different strains reported.

Now preliminary findings of clinical trials of the vaccine developed by pharmaceutical company Baxter show that it can induce antibodies that neutralise widely divergent strains of the H5N1 virus.

Dr Noel Barret, Vice President - Global R&D Vaccines, Baxter AG, said: "It reacts not only with the strains from which the vaccine is made but it also reacts with highly divergent H5N1 strains so the expectations is that such a vaccine could protect against strains which will be emerging in maybe 6 months', 12 months' time and 2 years' time."

The vaccine was produced using a cell-based technology which takes about 11 weeks to produce.

Today most influenza vaccine is produced using the egg-based method where the virus is introduced into the embryos and takes up to 28 weeks to produce.

This method has been used for nearly 50 years.

Baxter says some benefits using the cell-based system for the production of influenza vaccines include doing away with constraints of depending on the supply of eggs which can pose a challenge if a pandemic affects the supply of chickens.

Dr Barret says that the vaccine seems to work well even at the lowest dose level.

The company's study on mice found that 100 percent of mice immunised with the vaccine survived the Vietnam strain, the Hong Kong strain and the Indonesian strain of the H5N1.

The trial on humans shows that more than 75 percent of those injected with the vaccine were able to produce the antibodies.

Dr Barret said: "You cannot talk about efficacy because efficacy means protection against infection. We can't measure that in with H5N1 to date. What we can do is that we can determine the amount of subjects that produce what we anticipate are protective antibodies."

The clinical trial involved 270 healthy adults from Singapore and Austria and was carried out between June and September this year.

Baxter says that Singapore was chosen as a centre for its excellent infrastructure and facilities for conducting research.

Some 115 patients were recruited from Changi General Hospital and the National University Hospital, while the rest were from Austria.

The company says that the side effects from the vaccine are minor, such as fatigue, headaches and a slight fever.

Baxter plans to conduct a larger study involving at least 600 patients.

Among other things, it hopes to determine the optimal dosage in humans for the vaccine to be effective.

There is currently no vaccine against the bird flu on the market. - CNA/ch

Infections rise in deadly flu outbreak

(Nov 22) HEALTH officials in Canberra suspect another person has been infected in an influenza outbreak which has swept through a nursing home and already killed six elderly residents.

The powerful strain has infected 57 people, including at least seven nursing home staff.

Tests were still being conducted yesterday to determine if the latest respiratory illness was part of the same strain, a spokeswoman for ACT Health Minister Katy Gallagher said.

The latest victim was a 90-year-old man who passed away at the Jindalee Nursing Home in Canberra's south on Thursday night. Staff notified authorities on November 1 that an unknown illness had swept through the residence.

Health authorities have offered staff and residents of the home anti-viral medication, including the drug Tamiflu, and have sought assistance from the commonwealth.

ACT Acting Chief Health Officer Charles Guest reassured residents, staff and their families that the outbreak was not connected to pandemic influenza or the deadly H5N1 virus, commonly known as bird flu, following analysis of the virus.

The Australian Medical Association yesterday warned that Australia's pandemic management plan lacked consistency.

AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal said state governments had neglected to share their pandemic plans with doctors, and there was a lack of co-ordination across states and territories on the role of fever clinics and how to direct patients to the most appropriate care.

"General practitioners are keen to properly prepare for a flu pandemic but they're currently trying to do so in a vacuum of information on how jurisdictions propose to mobilise, integrate, finance and protect primary care," Dr Haikerwal said.

Australia has spent $600 million since 2003 preparing for a possible influenza outbreak. (

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Clues to pandemic bird flu found

International scientists believe they have identified some of the key steps needed for bird flu to develop into the deadly pandemic strain of the disease.

The team pinpoints two genetic mutations that would need to occur to the H5N1 virus for it to potentially spread readily between humans.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists said the findings would help them to detect pandemic strains.

At present, H5N1 can pass only from bird-to-bird or, rarely, bird-to-human.

This work shows that at least two changes... are needed for H5N1 to transform to strain that could infect humans
Dr Wendy Barclay, Reading University

So far, there have been a total of 258 cases of H5N1 in humans, causing 153 deaths, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

But flu viruses mutate and evolve quickly, and scientists believe the virus could acquire the ability to pass between humans.

They fear this could trigger a repeat of the devastation of the 1918 flu pandemic, which is thought to have killed 50 million people.

Docking station

To investigate how the virus might do this, the researchers looked at samples of H5N1 that had been taken from birds and also from infected humans.

In a small number of the human samples, they found the virus had acquired small changes to a protein called haemaggluttinin, which sits on the surface of the H5N1 molecule.

This protein helps the flu virus to spread by binding to the receptors on cells, which are like docking stations, allowing the virus to invade and infect the cells.

While the haemaggluttinin in most of the samples could only bind to bird cell-receptors, the researchers discovered that in some of the human samples, the haemaggluttinin had acquired the ability to bind to both bird and human cell-receptors.

It is thought this is a key step needed for H5N1 to be able to spread from human to human.

Further analysis revealed two separate mutations at different positions on the protein had enabled H5N1 to recognise human receptors.

The researchers said the discovery of the location of the mutations would help identify H5N1 strains that might be on the way to developing pandemic potential.

Pandemic pathway

Lead researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, US, said more mutations would be required for the virus to fully adapt to humans, but it is not known how many mutations are needed for such a change.

The team thought these changes were most likely to occur when a human influenza virus mingled with H5N1, particularly if it could already bind to human receptors.

Dr Wendy Barclay, a molecular virologist from Reading University, UK, said: "This work shows that at least two changes in the haemaggluttinin protein are needed for H5N1 to transform to strain that could infect humans, and knowing what these are will help to inform surveillance."

But, she said, the fact these mutations had already been seen in viruses isolated from human H5N1 cases, and a pandemic had not yet struck, suggested a number of other steps might be needed for the virus to be able to pass from human to human. (BBC)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

China urges vigilance against SARS, bird flu

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Ministry of Health has urged local governments to be on alert for SARS and human cases of bird flu and to strengthen prevention against epidemics as winter approaches.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome first emerged in China's southern Guangdong province, and the country is at the centre of the fight against the H5N1 bird flu virus, with dozens of animal outbreaks and 21 human cases since 2003.

"Experts believe that currently China has already entered the high season for respiratory disease," the ministry said in a statement on its Web site ( on Tuesday.

"The health ministry demands that all localities strengthen supervision and reporting of cases of pneumonia where the cause is unclear, human cases of bird flu, ordinary influenza cases and SARS," it said.

Local authorities must "immediately report outbreaks and adopt measures to prevent and control epidemics," the statement said.

China was widely criticised for its initial coverup of a SARS outbreak, which contributed to its spread around the world.

Experts say management of outbreaks has improved, but the government has acknowledged a lack of administrative capacity and a willingness among local officials to disclose information.

Bird flu kills woman, raising Indonesia’s death toll to 57

JAKARTA—A woman died of bird flu on the western outskirts of Indonesia’s capital on Tuesday, raising the country’s death toll from the virus to 57, a senior health ministry official said.

The 35-year-old female from Tangerang city died after four days of hospitalization, said Nyoman Kandun, adding that the source of exposure was still under investigation.

“Her death brings the (country’s) death toll to 57,” he said. (AP)

APEC leaders to call for fight against bird flu

HANOI, Vietnam: Pacific Rim leaders will endorse a plan to fight bird flu and cooperate in improving regional pandemic preparedness, according to a draft statement to be released this weekend.

Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, gathering in Hanoi for their annual summit, will support a plan calling for enhanced surveillance, improved infrastructure and expanded technical collaboration in the region.

The plan follows a meeting in May at which health and agriculture ministers from the region agreed on ways to head off a potential pandemic, including calling for the restructuring of some backyard farming practices into larger, more controlled operations.

In the draft statement, the APEC leaders urge a "deepened engagement of the private sector to help ensure continuity of business, trade and essential services in the event of a pandemic.

The virulent H5N1 bird flu virus has killed at least 153 people worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, potentially sparking a pandemic.

So far, most human cases have been linked to contact with infected birds.

The APEC leaders also will call for better cooperation on AIDS, including pushing for rights for those living with the AIDS virus and universal access to prevention, care and treatment by 2010, the draft statement says. (AP)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Indonesian bird flu cases 'far from pandemic'

(Nov. 9) Jakarta - Indonesia, which has the highest number of human bird flu infections and fatalities, was unlikely to be hit by a pandemic of the disease in the immediate future, an official has claimed.

"We are still far from a pandemic," said Bayu Krisnamurthi, the chief executive of the Indonesian National Committee for Avian Influenza Control and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (Komnas FBPI).

However, he cautioned the possibility of a pandemic remained, as no one could predict how the H5N1 virus that caused the disease would mutate.

The Komnas FBPI, set up by presidential decree in March, coordinates government responses to H5N1 bird flu cases, which experts fear could mutate into a form that spreads easily between humans, setting off a global pandemic.

The vast majority of bird flu cases in Indonesia and elsewhere have occurred after contact with infected poultry.

Indonesia now has 72 confirmed cases of human bird flu infection, 55 of them fatal.

But Krisnamurthi said the ratio of confirmed cases compared to reported suspect cases was decreasing, from about 30 to 35 percent six months ago to currently about 14 percent.

He said although bird flu had been found in 30 of the country's 32 provinces, human infections were contained to nine provinces.

He said the ratio between confirmed cases and fatalities remained largely unchanged at about 75 percent, due to late treatment following late diagnosis, and limited health facilities. - Sapa-AFP

Chinese Government denies the existence of the Fujian-like new strain

IN A move that is hardly surprising, China has denied the emergence of a new bird flu strain — Fujian-like — that was reported very recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The new strain, first identified in March last year by researchers working at the University of Hong Kong and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, Tennessee, U.S., has been found mainly in birds and in a few cases in humans as well.

The strain first found in Fujian province in China, and hence named Fujian-like, has been found to have spread to six other provinces in southern China from where samples were collected. Incidentally, it has already crossed borders and is found in Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

Quick emergence

What is of grave concern is not just the emergence of a new strain but the relative speed at which the strain emerged and spread to neighbouring countries. This makes a third wave of bird flu spreading across the globe highly possible.

Though the mechanism responsible for the emergence is not clearly understood, the researchers say the compulsory vaccination of poultry is a possible reason. Compulsory vaccination in China started in September last.

By not being designed to fully protect against Fujian-like strain, the vaccination indirectly helped the emergence of this strain.

Predominant strain

According to the researchers, the percentage of the new strain increased "dramatically" from October last year. During the period April-June this year, the predominance shot up to reach 95 per cent.

The predominance reflects the replacement of other strains by the Fujian-like strain.

The researchers also found five human cases where H5N1 viruses from different provinces in China belonged to Fujian-like strain and were similar to those found in poultry.

Humans infected

Though no concrete evidence of virulence is available, New Scientist (October 30, 2006) reports that the new strain was responsible for one human death in Thailand and five humans getting infected in China. "As far as I know all 20 human cases recognized since November 2005 were caused by this virus," Y. Gaun one of the authors was quoted as saying in New Scientist.

More than the emergence of the new strain within a very short period and quick spread to many provinces within China and neighbouring countries, it is the denial of its existence by the Chinese Government that is worrying.

Existence denied

"Up to now, the bird flu viruses selected from the south share a high uniformity," Liu Jianchao, Foreign Ministry spokesman told a press conference in Beijing after the findings in the journal became widely known. "There has been no marked change in the biological characteristics of the organisms."

It is not the first time that the Chinese Government has tried to conceal vital information, be it in the case of SARS or bird flu.

According to information provided by the Chinese Government, the first human death from bird flu was in November last year. But most people doubted this. A correspondence published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in June this year by researchers working in laboratories in China confirmed what many had long suspected.

First human death

The first human death was not in November last year, as the Government had claimed, but in November 2003, the researchers pointed out.

The researchers clearly pointed out that the 24-year-old man who died in November 2003 tested negative for SARS; genetically the virus isolated from the man was closely related to H5N1 viruses isolated from chickens.

Failed attempt

Even as this information was in the process of getting published in the journal, the Government tried its last bid at a cover-up. A bogus email was sent in the name of the lead author Wu-Chun Cao to the journal asking it to not publish the findings.

According to New Scientist (June 26, 2006), Cao had told the NEJM that he had never sent the email!

Pushed to a corner, the Chinese Government had to officially admit that the first case was indeed in November 2003 and not in November last year. And soon China enforced severe restrictions on investigation and reporting of suspected cases of bird flu. China's reluctance to become transparent has come in for severe criticism.

"China's lack of transparency... is making it difficult to determine how the deadly virus is mutating and spreading," a leading WHO official was quoted as saying in New Scientist (November 3, 2006).

China has not shared gene sequence data of the 2005 bird flu virus.

Influenza epicentre

More evidence now points to China being the "epicenter" for H5N1 bird flu virus. A paper published in the PNAS journal (February 21, 2006) states "... finding supports the "influenza epicenter" hypothesis, which argues that southern China is the epicenter from which [H5N1] influenza pandemics emerge."

It also said that H5N1 virus has been circulating in Chinese poultry for over a decade and introduced into Vietnam in 2001, 2003 and 2005.

More transparency is needed if bird flu has to be contained.

That indeed is a tall order considering China's unwillingness to be open and do the needful to control it in its backyard. (from

Monday, November 06, 2006

China still reneging on bird flu data

(Nov 3, 2006) The WHO said its efforts to track the spread of bird flu have been complicated by the failure of China's Agriculture Ministry to share samples of a newly discovered strain of the virus.

Scientific research released this week said that the new strain, called H5N1 Fujian-like, had spread widely over the past year, being found in almost all poultry outbreaks and some human cases in China, and now becoming prevalent in Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

Despite that prevalence, the ministry has not given the WHO any samples of the new strain, said Julie Hall, an infectious disease expert at the WHO's Beijing office.

"There's a stark contrast between what we're hearing from the researchers and what the Ministry of Agriculture says," Hall said. "Unless the ministry tells us what's going on and shares viruses on a regular basis, we will be doing diagnostics on strains that are old."

While new strains of viruses emerge regularly, health experts need to know when one becomes dominant in order to develop methods to detect and fight the disease, Hall said.

The ministry's reluctance has been an ongoing source of aggravation at the WHO. International health experts have repeatedly complained about Chinese foot-dragging in cooperating on investigating emerging diseases like bird flu and the SARS virus.

Telephones at the Agriculture Ministry were not answered on Wednesday and it did not immediately respond to faxed questions.

Some countries are slow to share genetic information or samples of viruses because they fear they will be pushed aside in the global race to produce a lucrative vaccine.

"This is a new disease. Nobody knows how to tackle it, nobody in the world has all the answers," Hall said. "But if they share, then we will all gain from that."

She said the ministry has not shared bird flu virus samples from poultry since 2004, a key impediment in developing diagnostic tools and vaccines.

Released this week, the year-long study by Chinese and US scientists found that, since June last year, one out of every 30 geese and one out of every 30 ducks in live markets tested positive for H5N1 in six southern Chinese provinces.

In that same period, however, the ministry reported only three outbreaks in the same provinces, Hall said.

The study was conducted in Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan and Hunan -- densely populated provinces where people live in close proximity to ducks, pigs and other farm animals, making the area a common breeding ground for flu viruses.

Out of 108 virus samples taken from infected poultry between April and June of this year, 103, or 95 percent, had the H5N1 Fujian-like strain, according to the results of the study reported in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The H5N1 flu has devastated poultry in China and several other Southeast Asian countries and has also claimed more than 150 human lives. Most of the people affected lived close to flocks of chickens or other poultry.

Public health authorities fear that the virus will mutate into a form that can spread easily among people, raising the potential for a worldwide pandemic that could kill millions. (

Thursday, November 02, 2006

China denounces reported discovery of new bird flu strain as inaccurate

BEIJING (AP) - China's Agriculture Ministry on Thursday disputed a scientific study about a pervasive, newly discovered strain of bird flu in China, calling the report inaccurate.

The findings, released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the new strain - called H5N1 Fujian-like - was found in almost all poultry outbreaks and some human cases in southern China and was now becoming prevalent in Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, and Thailand.

"China has taken note of the study about the variation of the bird flu virus in southern China published by an academic journal abroad," the ministry said in a statement read aloud to reporters at a Foreign Ministry briefing. "The comments they made do not conform with facts."

The Agriculture Ministry said H5N1 had been monitored in southern China since 2004 and that there had not been any significant mutations to the virus.

"The biological characteristics of the virus do not show apparent changes," said the statement.

The retort follows renewed criticism by the World Health Organization that the ministry has not shared bird flu samples with the international health body since 2004. Sharing is key in helping health experts track the diseases and ultimately develop vaccines.

The Agriculture Ministry defended its actions. "We have shared all the information related to bird flu virus and diseases to international organizations in a timely manner," the statement said.

The H5N1 flu has devastated poultry in China and several other southeast Asian countries and has claimed more than 150 human lives. Public health authorities fear that the virus will mutate into a form that can spread easily among people, raising the potential for a worldwide pandemic that could kill millions.

The study released in the journal Tuesday by Chinese and American scientists charted the spread of the new strain by testing geese and ducks found in live markets in six southern Chinese beginning in June 2005.

Over the course of the year, the new strain became more pervasive, the study said. Among the 108 samples taken from poultry in April and June 2006, 103 - or 95 per cent - were infected with the Fujian-like strain, the study said.

Bird flu to remain major threat for next decade: UN

CAIRO - Avian influenza is likely to remain a significant global threat for animals and humans for the next decade, top UN coordinator David Nabarro said on Thursday.

“The virus is likely to be with us for the five or ten years to come,” he told AFP in an interview.

According to the UN’s health agency, the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus has been confirmed in 256 humans worldwide since the first outbreak in 2003. It was lethal in at least 152 cases.

Nabarro, who was tasked last year by the world body with containing the crisis, warned that the international community had to remain on high alert for the possible mutation of the virus into one communicable between humans.

“The risk of a mutation to cause pandemic is still very much there,” he said. “As long as the virus is present in birds, there will also be a threat of sporadic human infection, and a possibility of a mutation which would cause at the end of the day a pandemic.”

“Trying to estimate the potential mortality of a pandemic is very hard. What I’ve already said is that you could have of range of between five and 150 million” deaths, said Nabarro.

“It’s the reason why I do think we a have to put now plenty of energy towards a long term reform of the poultry farming techniques, in order to reduce the risks of human infection.”

Nabarro said frequent occurrences of sporadic human infections meant the virus would not be eliminated for some time, but he voiced his hope that efforts deployed to combat the virus in recent months would have increased preparedness for a pandemic.

“The difference now is that countries all over the world are much more geared up to deal with this phenomenon than they were a year ago. It gives me some hope that when the virus appears in a new country, it can be controlled,” he said.

On a recent visit to Cairo to attend a global health research forum, Nabarro praised the Egyptian authorities’ performance in handling the bird flu outbreak.

With seven lethal human cases in less than a year, Egypt is the hardest-hit non-Asian country. (AFP)


Useful links