Saturday, February 24, 2007

Egyptian child recovers from bird flu - agency

CAIRO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A five-year-old Egyptian boy who tested positive for bird flu has recovered, the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported on Saturday.

Mohamed Ahmed Suleiman recovered after treatment with frontline antiviral Tamiflu and was allowed to go home, MENA quoted Yusri Ragab, director of the Cairo hospital where the child was treated as saying.

Suleiman was the 22nd case to test positive for the H5N1 virus in Egypt, which has the largest bird flu cluster outside Asia. Of the 22 cases, 13 have died.

Most people infected in Egypt had been in contact with live birds kept at home. Bird flu initially caused panic across the country and did extensive damage to the poultry industry, although the sector has largely recovered.

World Health Organisation officials have said a delay in reporting symptoms in Egypt, where many people keep poultry at home, made the virus harder to fight.

Bird flu outbreaks confirmed in Afghanistan flocks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two outbreaks of bird flu in small flocks in Afghanistan have been identified as the dangerous H5N1 strain, world animal health officials said on Friday.

The World Animal Health Organisation or OIE said it had confirmed H5N1 in a flock of backyard poultry in Nangarhar province and in turkeys in Kunar province.

Just last Sunday, Afghanistan banned poultry imports to prevent the spread of the feared virus, which forced the destruction of a flock of turkeys in Britain and killed birds at a zoo in Pakistan.

The H5N1 strain was found in poultry in at least four Afghan provinces last year, leading to the killing of thousands of birds, but there were no human deaths.

Afghanistan imports a large amount of poultry, mostly from Pakistan. The ban imposed last week also applies to other countries hit by H5N1, including Britain, Turkey and Indonesia.

The country lies at the junction of Central and South Asia and is on the migration route for several species of wild birds.

Scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that jumps easily between people and start a global flu pandemic. Although only 274 people are known to have been infected so far worldwide, 167 have died.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Progress in producing vaccine against human bird flu: WHO

(Feb 17) The United Nations health agency has reported "encouraging progress" in producing vaccine against human bird flu which, in worst case scenario, could mutate to cause pandemic with the potential of killing millions.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) said the bad news is that the world does not have the capacity to meet potential global demand even as some independent experts said that the efficacy of the vaccine in humans is yet to be fully demonstrated.

The agency is negotiating with 16 manufacturers in ten country developing prototype of the vaccine against H5N1 virus, five of whom are developing focusing on other strains including H9N2, H5N2 and H5N3.

The results presented at just concluded experts meeting, WHO said, have "convincingly demonstrated" that vaccines can bring about a potentially protective immune response against strains of H5N1 virus found in a variety of geographical locations, WHO said.

Some of the vaccines, it said, work with low doses of antigen, which means that significantly more vaccine doses can be available in case of a pandemic.

But it warned that in spite of the encouraging progress, the world still lacks the manufacturing capacity to meet potential global pandemic influenza vaccine demand as current capacity is estimated at less than 400 million doses per year of trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine. (

Matthews could be prosecuted over hygiene at bird flu factory

Bernard Matthews could face prosecution over sloppy biosecurity at the Holton factory in Suffolk where the avian flu virus infected turkey chicks and 160,000 birds had to be destroyed.

Unprotected waste, including scraps of dead turkey, was left outside the processing plant in breach of EU animal byproduct disposal laws.

Scientific experts believe that infection may have spread from discarded carcasses, feathers or other detritus by scavenging gulls, rats or mice and been carried to the turkey-rearing part of the premises.

The poor hygiene conditions on the premises reported in The Times last week were described in a preliminary veterinary report from the Government yesterday.

A spokeswoman at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed that investigations were continuing with a view to possible prosecution.

Bernard Matthews — which has a turnover of £400 million a year — and its trade links with Hungary remain a central focus of the investigation.

The unresolved mystery is how the lethal H5N1 virus, an almost identical strain to the infection found in geese in the Csongrad county of Hungary, arrived in Holton, near Hales-worth. Experts said that the virus match was 99.96 per cent similar.

Experts at the Veterinary Laboratory Agency are testing for the virus in meat products held in cold storage at the Holton plant. The tests can take five to ten days and are not conclusive.

So far, state vets, inspectors for the Food Standards Agency and the Meat Hygiene Service have been unable to find any specific link between the two outbreaks, but government experts believe that the poultry imports are the “most plausible” cause of the Bernard Matthews outbreak.

Hungarian officials have started a trawl through the export papers that accompanied consignments of turkey carcasses from Bernard Matthews’ subsidiary, SaGa Foods in Sarkow, and from Gallfood in Keskemet, a plant near the infected Hungarian zone, to Suffolk between January 1 and February 1.

The authorities are also looking for possible evidence of any illicit trade, or for shoddy biosecurity that allowed infected bird faeces to travel to Britain on a lorry, a boot, a wheel arch, packaging or tool — which could have led to the spread of the virus in Suffolk.

Experts at the European Commission are to assist Britain and Hungary in determining the route of the avian flu strain that has killed at least 166 people worldwide since 2003 — when it first appeared in Asian poultry.

Raw meat that was sent to Hungary from Bernard Matthews since the bird flu was confirmed on February 3 is also to be tested for the virus. The meat had been kept in cold storage and was not being allowed into the food chain until further checks were made, Hungarian sources said yesterday.

Despite the mystery over the virus transmission and biosecurity lapses on the farm, Bernard Matthews has been given approval to resume exports to Hungary. The company, however, has decided to continue its voluntary suspension of trade with Hungary.

Problems with gulls feeding from open waste bins was first raised with Bernard Matthews management last year by its own firm of pest controllers. They had also identified holes and openings in rearing sheds that could easily allow a bird or a rodent to mix with chicks and for water or bird droppings to get into enclosed units.

Meat Hygiene Service records also reveal that inspectors issued warnings about a range of “deficiencies and noncompliance”. Though not specified, they are also related to possible breaches of animal byproduct regulations.

Bernard Matthews was served another warning last month about problems on the site. Pest control reports on January 10 and January 24 noted that gulls were carrying meat scraps half a kilometre away and then roosting on the top of the farm sheds. Poly-thene bags containing meat products and residual liquids were also thrown into the open bins and were easily blown across the site. Birds or rats may also have infected wood shavings that are stored outdoors and used to refresh bedding inside the sheds.

The virus may also have been introduced into sheds on contaminated footwear or clothing. After the disease was confirmed in turkeys in one shed it is possible that staff may have spread the disease to three other sheds on the site.

This catalogue of biosecurity failures is in stark contrast to the glowing appraisal of the company by Bernard Matthews himself. Mr Matthews spoke this week about his pride in his business, which he said had always abided by EU rules.

He denied that the company had acted evasively since the outbreak and said: “There has been absolutely no cover-up at our end. I’ve been upset about allegations that we may have withheld information. That is completely untrue.”

In a further statement the company welcomed the government report, saying it showed that the company had always acted legally.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman, said: “This report high-lights serious biosecurity lapses at Bernard Matthews’ plant in Suffolk. Allowing wild birds to feed on raw poultry meat left in the open is highly irresponsible as it could lead to widespread contamination. The impression is still of an organisation in denial about the seriousness of events at its plant.”

Conservation experts are waiting to see whether the virus has spread into wild birds. (

Egypt reports 22nd human bird flu case

(Feb 17) A five-year-old Egyptian boy from the Nile Delta region was tested positive to the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, bringing the number of bird flu human cases to 22 in this populous Arab nation, the official news agency MENA reported on Friday.

The latest case came from Al-Sharqiya governorate, some 65 km north of Cairo, and he was under treatment, said Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shaheen, without giving more details.

Earlier in the day, the ministry said a 37-year-old woman has died of the deadly virus, bringing the death toll of the infectious disease to 13 in Egypt.

The woman was identified as Nadia Mohammed Abdel-Hafez and she died on Thursday evening, said the ministry.

Abdel-Hafez came from Fayoum, a countryside town located some 85 km south of Cairo. She checked into Fayoum's fever hospital on Feb. 12 after suffering from high temperature and pneumonia, according to the ministry.

The ministry announced that the woman was tested positive to the deadly H5N1 virus on Wednesday.

Egypt found the first bird flu case in dead poultry on Feb. 17, 2006 and then the virus spread to 20 of the country's 26 governorates.

The populous Arab country reported first human bird flu case on March 18 of 2006.

Before the latest case of the five-year-old boy, 21 human cases of the disease have been reported in Egypt, of which 13 have died of the fatal virus and the other eight recovered.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Some People May Be Immune to Bird Flu, Mouse Study Suggests

By John Lauerman

Feb. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Some people already may have at least partial protection to the deadly bird flu spreading in Asia, possibly because of getting seasonal flu shots, scientists said today.

The conclusions, published online today by researchers from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, are based on a study of mice that were protected against the deadly virus after gaining immune proteins found in many people.

The findings open a window into how the body gains immunity against influenza, a highly contagious virus that kills about 36,000 Americans annually and causes deadly pandemics a few times each century. It also might give an unexpected boost to the use of seasonal flu shots, made by Sanofi-Aventis SA and other companies, for the strains that spread around the world annually.

``This makes seasonal immunization more important because it might provide some partial protection,'' said William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist in Nashville, Tennessee, who didn't participate in the study. The study may become ``an additional argument to get people to line up and get immunized either by inoculation or nasal spray.''

Countries and companies have stepped up their anti-influenza efforts as a deadly bird flu has spread through Asia, Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe. Scientists say the disease might kill millions if it becomes contagious in people.

H, N Proteins

Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and other drugmakers design new vaccines annually to find and destroy two constantly changing proteins, called ``H'' and ``N'' for short, on the surface of the flu virus. Vaccine specialists have long considered the more important of these two to be hemagglutinin, the ``H'' protein that attaches the virus to the surface of human cells, Schaffner said.

The St. Jude's research team, led by virologist Richard Webby, focused on immunity to the other surface protein, called ``N,'' or neuraminidase. Similar versions of the neuraminidase, known as ``N1,'' sit on the outside of both H5N1 bird flu and another influenza strain, called H1N1, that has been circulating among people for decades.

Webby's group wanted to see if immunity to the N in H1N1 would also protect against the deadly H5N1 bird flu. About half of animals with genes programmed to give immunity to H1N1's ``N'' protein survived H5N1 infection; every animal in a comparison group died.

``It's very weak protection,'' Webby said, ``but I was surprised we saw any protection at all because of the differences in the neuraminidase proteins.''

Descendants of H1N1

The most deadly pandemic known in history, the 1918 Spanish flu that killed about 50 million people worldwide, was caused by a virus in the H1N1 family.

Since then, descendants of that virus have circulated widely in people, and vaccines against different versions of H1N1 are included in seasonal vaccines. Mice who were given human serum, a blood component that contains immune cells, also gained some protection against H5N1.

Statistics released last week by the World Health Organization showed that 90 percent of people infected with H5N1 since 2003 are less than 40 years old. At least 272 people have been sickened by the virus, and 166 of them have died, WHO said Feb. 6.

The findings, published today in the Public Library of Science, Medicine, may explain why H5N1 bird flu infections have been so rare, particularly in older people, researchers said. Years of exposure to annual outbreaks and vaccines may have given people antibodies that protect against the N1 protein.

``This could be a matter of considerable relief,'' said David Fedson, a former vaccine developer for Aventis Pasteur, a unit of Paris-based drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis SA.

Mice, Ferrets, Humans

Still, results in mice don't always predict what will happen in humans, Fedson and other scientists said. Ferrets are thought to mimic more closely the human response to influenza and vaccines, said Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan School of Public Health epidemiologist.

``The proof of the pudding is going to be in whether this can be replicated in other testing systems,'' he said in a telephone interview. ``We need to see if it works in other animals like ferrets.''

The real answer won't be known until when and if H5N1 begins spreading in people, Fedson said.

``To think that we know from lab tests all we need to know about this virus would be risky,'' he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at .

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Nigerian death highlights West African bird flu risks

By Alistair Thomson

DAKAR (Reuters) - The death of a young Nigerian woman from bird flu has focused attention on the risk of such human infections in West Africa, where social habits and weak health and veterinary services make the region vulnerable, experts say.

The death, confirmed by the World Health Organization over the weekend, comes a year after Nigeria first found the highly pathogenic H5N1 variety of bird flu in poultry.

"Until a human case appeared, I think there was an impression the linkage with human beings was very remote, so this has come close to home and people are now realizing the seriousness," said Simeon Ehui, the World Bank economist in Nigeria who is coordinating the bank's bird flu response there.

"To the credit of Nigeria, because of the workshops and training of the government, there was a quick detection of that human case, because that person could just have died and the illness could have remained (hidden)," Ehui said.

"Maybe other people have died -- nobody knows," he said.

Since highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu was first detected in Africa, experts have warned that weak human and animal health services there could allow the disease to go undetected -- giving it more chance to mutate into a form that could pass between humans and trigger a pandemic killing millions.

"It doesn't alter the risk, the genetic change of the virus can happen anywhere. I don't think Lagos is any more likely (than elsewhere, but) the longer the virus is in the environment and is present, the greater the risk," said Francois Le Gall, head of the World Bank's Africa bird flu response unit.

So far Nigeria has got off lightly compared to hard-hit Asian countries, or Egypt in North Africa, which reported its 12th bird flu death on Monday.

For many experts, the surprise is not the first death from bird flu in Nigeria, but how long it has been avoided.

"Given the reliance on poultry and close contact between people and domestic poultry in the country, many people could have been exposed to the virus," the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a briefing paper.

This mimics the situation seen in some countries in South East Asia that have reported cases concurrently in poultry and humans. Thus it has almost been surprising that individual human cases have not occurred previously in Nigeria," it said.

Joseph Domenech, chief veterinarian for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, saw cause for hope.

"It's something we were expecting to happen any time.

"Generally speaking, the surveillance in Africa is not as good as it could be ... (but) if there are more outbreaks being declared, it's also because programs are working: there is better transparency, communications and reporting," he said.

Foreign donors meeting in Mali in December pledged nearly $500 million in extra funds to fight bird flu, mostly for Africa. But money alone is not enough.

The World Bank's Ehui said public perceptions toward bird flu were crucial to identifying and eradicating infections fast.

"In the neighboring countries they think of it (human infection) as a distant possibility. In my own country, the Ivory Coast, they have even made a song and dance out of it," he said, referring to a dance that took Ivory Coast's nightclubs by storm last year, imitating a chicken in its death throes.

Two more Indonesians have bird flu, new Pakistan case

By Achmad Sukarsono

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Two more Indonesians were confirmed to have bird flu on Tuesday and Pakistan reported its first case in a year after finding the deadly virus in a small flock of chickens near the capital Islamabad.

Concern has grown since the H5N1 virus flared again in Asia in recent months, spreading through poultry flocks in South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.

A chicken is seen at a poultry shop in Jakarta February 5, 2007. Two more Indonesians were confirmed to have bird flu on Tuesday and Pakistan reported its first case in a year after finding the deadly virus in a small flock of chickens near the capital Islamabad. (REUTERS/Crack Palinggi)
The H5N1 virus has spread into the Middle East, Africa and Europe since it reemerged in Asia in 2003 and outbreaks have now been detected in birds in around 50 countries.

On Monday, Britain killed 160,000 turkeys following the discovery of bird flu on a turkey farm in eastern England. South Korea and Hong Kong on Tuesday joined Japan and Russia in banning British poultry.

In Indonesia, which has the highest human bird flu death toll, the latest human case was a girl from an upscale Jakarta neighbourhood who had caught a wild bird which died two days later, Joko Suyono of the health ministry's bird flu centre said.

The other was a West Java man who lived in an area where many poultry had died.

Indonesia, where many people keep chickens in their backyards, has had 63 human deaths from the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus, six of them this year.

The government has stepped up efforts to stamp out the virus which is endemic in poultry in most of the provinces in the country of 17,000 islands where most bird flu victims have caught the disease from contact with infected fowl.


In Pakistan, Mohammad Afzal, Livestock Commissioner at the Ministry of Agriculture, said all the chickens in the flock of about 40 birds at a house in Rawalpindi, a city adjoining Islamabad, had died or been culled as a result of H5N1.

"It has been contained and there is no danger of the spread of this virus because there are no poultry farms near this house," he told Reuters.

Pakistan's first reported cases of H5N1 bird flu were found in chickens in February last year in North West Frontier Province. In all, about 40,000 chickens were culled. There have been no human cases in Pakistan.

The two new Indonesian cases came as Jakarta said it had stopped sharing human genetic samples of the most deadly strain of bird flu with foreign laboratories because it wanted to keep control of the intellectual property rights of the H5N1 strain.

"We can't share samples for free. There should be rules of the game for it," said the health ministry's spokeswoman, Lily Sulistyowati.

"Just imagine they could research, use and patent the Indonesia strain. We can't give the samples but we can share data in the gene bank."

Sulistyowati said Indonesia would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. medical products maker Baxter International on Wednesday to collaborate on making a human bird flu vaccine.

"The vaccine is to prevent poultry-to-human infection. That's what we need for the current situation and not for the future pandemic," she said.

Baxter confirmed it expected to conclude a "framework for future collaboration" with Indonesia this week, but said it would still abide by World Health Organisation rules on sharing virus samples, the Financial Times newspaper said.

No comment was immediately available from Baxter.

(Additional reporting by Mita Valina Liem in JAKARTA, Kang Shinye in Seoul and Nao Nakanishi in HONG KONG)


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