Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Taiwan eyes mass production of bird flu vaccines in 2008

TAIPEI - A Taiwanese research team said Monday it had produced a bird flu vaccine that had passed initial animal tests.

‘The vaccine against the H5N1 strain has passed tests on mice,’ said Pele Chuang, the head of a 25-member team at the National Health Research Institute.

The H5N1 bird flu strain is potentially deadly to humans.

The vaccine, using cell culture technology, needs validation by the health ministry before human tests are undertaken.

They are due to be completed before the end of June next year.

If all goes to plan, mass production of the vaccines -- running up to a million doses a year -- would begin late 2008, Chuang said.

‘This is a milestone considering when we started last year, we started from scratch, and now we have developed the capability to produce vaccines,’ he said.

The research project has cost the government some 40 million Taiwan dollars (1.22 million US). Institute officials said the ability to produce indigenous vaccines could be crucial in the event of an outbreak.

Bird flu has killed more than 160 people worldwide since late 2003 and there are fears it could mutate and trigger a deadly human flu pandemic.

A less virulent H7N3 strain was twice detected in samples of bird droppings in Taiwan in 2005 and again in January 2006.

In 2003, Taiwan slaughtered 467,000 birds, mostly chickens, after the H5N2 strain was discovered on chicken farms on the offshore island of Kinmen. (khaleejtimes.com)

EU lab confirms Hungary bird flu

The European Union has confirmed that the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found on a farm in Hungary.

A spokesman said tests at the EU's approved laboratory in Weybridge, south of London, had confirmed the results announced by Hungary last week.

A flock of 3,000 geese on the infected farm near Szentes in southern Hungary has been destroyed.

It is the EU's first case of bird flu for about six months.

Hungary alerted the EU last week after it detected the outbreak.

The virus first appeared in the country in February last year in wild geese, swans and domestic poultry.

The current tests were carried out after an abnormally high mortality rate was reported in the flock of geese.

Croatia reacted by immediately banning poultry imports from Hungary.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu is deadly to humans and has killed more than 150 people, mostly in Asia, since it emerged in late 2003.

Scientists fear it could combine with a human flu virus to mutate into a disease similar to the Spanish flu that killed millions of people after World War I. (BBC news)

Boy's death in Azerbaijan not from bird flu

BAKU, January 29 (RIA Novosti) - A boy who died Sunday morning of what was initially suspected as the H1N5 strain of bird flu succumbed instead to bilateral pneumonia, Azerbaijan's health officials said Monday.

Azhdar Askerov, 14, was hospitalized in the capital, Baku, Wednesday with a pulmonary infection thought to be bird flu. Last year, three of his relatives died of the disease.

The Health Ministry official said Azerbaijani experts detected no bird flu virus in Askerov's blood, which has now been sent to the World Health Organization's laboratory in London for further tests. The results are expected later this week, Azerbaijan's APA news agency said.

Viktor Gasimov, head of the epidemiological department in the ministry, told APA that the H5N1 virus could not have survived in the boy's home village of Dayikend, in the Salyansky Region, where it broke out last spring, killing five people.

"The virus can only survive for 40 days," he said. "It cannot withstand the heat, and could not have lived through the summer." (en.rian.ru)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Japan says bird flu outbreak from H5N1 strain

OKYO (Reuters) - An outbreak of bird flu at a poultry farm in southwestern Japan was caused by the H5N1 strain of the virus, farm ministry officials said on Saturday, confirming the second such case in Japan this month.

There have been no reported cases of human infection from the virus in Japan.

Local officials were in the process of culling all 50,000 birds on the farm after 3,200 of them died of the disease. Another 50,000 at an adjacent farm will also be slaughtered as a precautionary measure, a local official said.

Initial tests had shown the chickens on the farm in Miyazaki prefecture were infected with an H5 subtype of bird flu virus, but further testing had been needed to determine whether it was the feared H5N1 strain.

The H5N1 strain is known to have killed 164 worldwide since 2003, most of them in Asia. Some 200 million birds have been killed by the virus or culled to prevent its spread.

Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form which passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.

Later on Saturday, the Japanese Agriculture Ministry said that an outbreak of bird flu was suspected on a farm in Okayama prefecture in western Japan.

Seventeen birds have died on the farm in Takahashi, Okayama, since Friday, an Agriculture Ministry official said. An official at Okayama prefecture said the farm had 12,000 chickens.

"We are doing more detailed tests, and nothing is determined until then," the Agriculture Ministry official said.

Earlier this month, Japan suffered its first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in poultry in more than three years, also in Miyazaki, the country's biggest poultry producing region.

Cases of the virus have flared up across Asia in recent weeks, as in previous winters, taking the death toll in Indonesia to 63, the country hardest hit in terms of fatalities.

A 14-year-old boy in Azerbaijan has been sent to hospital as a suspected case, while Vietnam is trying to control the spread of the disease among birds in the Mekong Delta.

The first outbreak of bird flu in the European Union this year was confirmed on Wednesday after the H5N1 strain was detected in geese in Hungary.

Indonesia asks troops to fight bird flu

Indonesia has called on the military to help fight bird flu, a day after a young girl became the country's sixth victim this month.

In Azerbaijan, officials feared a return of the H5N1 bird flu virus after a 14-year-old boy was sent to hospital as a suspected case.

Adding to global worries, Japanese officials were awaiting test results to confirm if the virus had killed poultry at a farm in the south, while Vietnam is trying to control the disease spreading among birds in the Mekong Delta.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the military chief to deploy soldiers to help fight the disease, Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi told reporters.

"He called on governors, regents, mayors to be more active in leading efforts to fight bird flu in affected areas," Silalahi said after ministers held talks with Yudhoyono.

The sense of alarm was highlighted by the country's welfare minister earlier in the day.

"Even though our continued effort is giving some significant progress, we are still on highest alert," Aburizal Bakrie, said at a ceremony to receive 100,000 sets of protective equipment donated by the United States.

Indonesia has the highest bird flu death toll and is stepping up efforts to stamp out the disease after a flare up in cases this year.

"Indonesia is very serious in addressing this threat," Bakrie said a day after a six year-old girl died - Indonesia's 63rd victim of the disease that has killed 164 people globally since 2003.

He said the government had succeeded in containing human infections in nine of the 30 high risk provinces.

The disease, however, remains endemic in fowl in some of the most densely populated parts of Indonesia, including Java.

In Azerbaijan, health authorities said the 14-year-old boy's sister was one of five people who died last year in an outbreak of H5N1 in the former Soviet republic between Turkey and Russia.

A health ministry official said tests by a laboratory in Azerbaijan were negative for bird flu and doctors were awaiting results from a laboratory in London that is endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The first outbreak of bird flu in the European Union this year was confirmed on Wednesday after the Commission said the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain had been detected in geese in Hungary.

EU governments have approved security measures taken by Hungary against the spread of the virus detected in the south-east of the country, saying the outbreak likely stemmed from wild birds. Russia has banned poultry imports from Hungary to prevent the spread of the bird flu virus, the Agriculture Ministry said.

The WHO says bird flu has infected 269 people worldwide since late 2003, not including the latest death in Indonesia. Experts fear the more the virus spreads in birds, the greater the chances it might mutate into a form that causes a flu pandemic in humans. Millions of people could die.

Japan confirmed another case of H5 bird flu at a poultry farm in the south-western prefecture of Miyazaki on Friday, an agriculture ministry official said. Further tests were needed to confirm if the virus was H5N1.

Earlier this month, Japan suffered its first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in poultry in more than three years. No human infections have been reported.

In southern Vietnam, the virus has flared up in seven provinces and a city since last month, but the spread of the disease has slowed in recent days.

Animal health officials said the danger was still very high because authorities were unable to stop farmers letting their ducks roam rice fields to eat spilt grain.

Ducks can carry the H5N1 virus without showing symptoms and the waterfowl has been the main source for outbreaks in the country where 42 people have died of the disease since 2003. Vietnam has not detected any human cases since November 2005. (www.theage.com.au)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bird flu strain shows resistance to Tamiflu

Geneva - Two people who died of bird flu in Egypt last month had a strain of the H5N1 virus which has shown "moderate" resistance to the frontline antiviral Tamiflu, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

Known as "294S", the mutated strain was first detected in 2005 in a teenage girl in Vietnam who survived, but this is the first evidence of it spreading beyond Asia, it said.

The United Nations agency said the latest cases did not change its recommendation to treat bird flu patients with Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir. Made by Swiss-based Roche, the flu drug is being stockpiled by governments worldwide for use in the event of an influenza pandemic.

"What we've confirmed is that H5N1 viruses isolated from two patients in recent cases in Egypt both showed this so-called 294S change," Keiji Fukuda, co-ordinator for the WHO's global influenza programme, told Reuters.

In a statement confirming the mutation, the WHO said the public health implications of the findings were "limited".

"At this time, there is no indication that oseltamivir resistance is widespread in Egypt or elsewhere," it said.

"WHO is not making any changes in antiviral treatment recommendations for H5N1-infected persons... because the clinical level of resistance of these mutations is not yet well established. Current laboratory testing suggests that the level of reduced susceptibility is moderate," it added.

The mutated strain was found in a 26-year-old Egyptian factory worker and his teenage niece in the Nile Delta province of Gharbia, both of whom died in December along with another female relative, according to Fukuda.

The uncle and niece, who lived in the same house, were given Tamiflu in the second hospital in which they were treated, after the disease was already more developed, he said.

Egypt, which announced on Wednesday it was treating another bird flu patient, has recorded 10 deaths among 19 confirmed human cases - the largest toll outside Asia.

Worldwide, there have been 161 fatalities among 267 known cases since 2003, according to the Geneva-based WHO.

The WHO reaffirmed last May that patients should get Tamiflu as a frontline treatment, but said in certain cases, doctors may consider using it along with amantadine, an older class of effective flu drugs.

Its recommendations, based on a consensus of international experts, also said that zanamivir - marketed as Relenza by GlaxoSmithKline - was a second choice.

Both Tamiflu and Relenza belong to a new drug class called neuraminidase inhibitors and can prevent the virus from infecting cells in the first place. (iol.co.za)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Australia: Researchers doubtful over deadly bird flu discovery

Researchers from James Cook University are not expecting to find the deadly strain of bird flu when they conduct tests in north Queensland.

Next month, blood samples will be taken from black ducks, whistling ducks and magpie geese to determine the levels of infection.

The state's far north is an entry point for many migratory birds from countries such as Indonesia, where the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found.

Dr Graham Burgess is not expecting to find H5N1, but says it is possible that birds could bring it into the country.

"We've got two potential entry points," he said.

"One is with birds coming to Australia, that's not extremely likely, but it can happen and the other one is humans getting infected and developing a new strain of the disease and then bringing it to Australia.

"That's the one that we're really worried about with H5N1." (abc.net.au)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Japan burns 12,000 chickens following bird flu outbreak

TOKYO: Local authorities in southwestern Japan began incinerating 12,000 dead chickens on a farm Monday as part of efforts to stop the spread of a recent bird flu outbreak.

"We will proceed by giving the utmost care to safety so as not to cause any fear to residents in the area," Kazuo Kuroiwa, an agriculture official of Miyazaki prefecture, said of the work which was expected to take until early Tuesday.

On Saturday, the government confirmed the outbreak after 3,900 chickens were found dead at the farm in the prefecture, some 900 kilometers (558 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

Agricultural officials of the prefecture culled the remaining 8,100 chickens at the farm on Sunday, and all 12,000 birds there will be incinerated.

It was still not clear if the outbreak involved the H5N1 strain, which is potentially deadly to humans.

Another prefectural official, Hisanori Ogura, said earlier Monday, "So far, we have not received any reports of a spread of the outbreak. Also, there has been no panic among local residents."
The officials put the farm under a massive sanitation program while ordering 11 other poultry farms within a 10-kilometer (six-mile) radius not to move chickens and eggs.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government banned all poultry imports from Japan. Hong Kong, which was the scene of the world's first reported major bird flu outbreak among humans in 1997, imported some 1,800 tonnes of frozen poultry products from Japan from January to September last year.

Japan confirmed an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in January 2004. Since then, the nation has seen several more outbreaks of the H5N1 strain, as well as the less serious H5N2 virus.

Health experts have warned that four bird flu deaths in Indonesia and a spate of new poultry outbreaks in Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia were signs the virus could make resurgence this northern winter.

Bird flu has killed more than 150 people worldwide since late 2003. There are fears it could mutate and trigger a deadly, global pandemic. (thenews.com.pk)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

China reports farmer contracted and survived H5N1 strain of bird flu

BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese farmer contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu but has recovered, state media said Wednesday, in China's first reported human case of the disease in six months.

The 37-year-old farmer fell ill in December but "fully recovered" and was released from a hospital Saturday, the China News Service and Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the Health Ministry.

It was China's first reported human case of bird flu since a farmer died of the disease in July in the far west, becoming the mainland's 14th fatality.

The farmer had poultry in his backyard but Chinese experts were still trying to determine whether he caught the virus from them, said Joanna Brent, a World Health Organization spokeswoman in Beijing.

People who had close contact with the farmer, identified only by the surname Li, were put under medical observation but showed no signs of the disease, CNS and Xinhua said. They said he lived in the eastern city of Tunxi in Anhui province.

Human cases of bird flu have been traced to birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that can pass between people, setting off a pandemic. For now, the virus is difficult for people to catch.

China reacted quickly to the case, notifying the WHO on Tuesday, a day after tests confirmed the Anhui farmer had bird flu, according to Brent.

"It's certainly been a case of very fast and timely reporting on the part of the Chinese government," she said.

China has been criticized in the past for its slow response to health threats such as bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The communist government has created a national monitoring network and ordered local authorities to report disease cases quickly.

Brent praised Chinese authorities for ordering additional tests after a first round came back negative for the virus.

"We think both the way the central government and the provincial government responded were excellent," she said.

The China News Service said authorities in Anhui took disease-control measures but did not give details.

China reported its first human case of bird flu in 2005, while the virus was tearing through Vietnam and Thailand. The government disclosed last year that new tests on the body of a 24-year-old soldier who died in 2003 confirmed that he succumbed to the disease.

China has suffered dozens of bird flu outbreaks in its vast poultry flocks. Authorities have destroyed millions of chickens, ducks and other birds to contain outbreaks on farms.

The Anhui farmer was China's 22nd human case of bird flu.

Out of the previous 21 cases, only one was preceded by an outbreak in poultry, according to Brent.

The H5N1 virus also has been found in migratory birds in China.

Concern about potential outbreaks increases in the winter, when wild birds fly south.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Report: Japan to stockpile prototype bird flu vaccines for 10 million people

(Jan 3, 2007) TOKYO: Japan plans to buy prototype bird flu vaccine solutions for up to 10 million people, a news report said Wednesday, amid concerns that the country lacks an adequate stockpile of drugs to fight the virus.

The Japanese government will earmark 4.5 billion yen (US$37.9 million; €28.56 million) in its supplementary budget for the fiscal year ending March 31 to build up the stockpile, Kyodo News agency reported, citing unidentified Health Ministry officials.

Four Japanese vaccine makers are expected to complete production of two types of prototype vaccine for 10 million people by around February, Kyodo cited the officials as saying.

Manufacturers cannot produce an actual vaccine until a flu outbreak has occurred, so they are creating a stopgap prototype vaccine based on samples of the H5N1 strain of the virus detected in Vietnam in 2004 and in Indonesia in 2005, Kyodo added.

Health Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 157 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There have been no known human deaths in Japan.

So far, the virus still cannot move easily from human to human — but if this changes, experts fear it could lead to a deadly flu pandemic.

Preparing for the worst, Tokyo planned to have enough of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu for 25 million people under a program set up in December 2005. The program, however, set no timetable for reaching that target, government health officials say.

Under the plan, the central government was to stock enough Tamiflu for 10.5 million people, and local governments would have stocks for another 10.5 million people. Stocks available in the market would cover an additional 4 million people.

Stocks, however, are still short of those targets.

The central government had Tamiflu for 7.5 million people and local governments had planned to buy enough for another 5.25 million people by March 2007, Health Ministry officials said in late November. That would cover only about 60 percent of the amount called for under the plan.

The officials did not know whether stocks available on the market had reached the target. (AP)

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