Friday, June 30, 2006



A series of interviews with "international experts and local health officials" conducted by the Financial Times has revealed that Indonesia failed to adequately deal with the human infection cluster that killed seven family members in late May/early June.

Had the H5N1 virus actually mutated into a form that could pass readily from human-to-human then Indonesia's response, as it was during the family cluster, "would have speeded rather than slowed the global spread of the virus had it involved a pandemic strain of H5N1."

In the interviews with FT, a stream of problems with the Indonesian health system's response to the outbreak were catalogued. The most troubling appears to be the state of hospitals, where a dangerous shortage of protective equipment might have led to conditions where the virus could not be contained had it begun to spread from human to human.

The difficulties of Indonesia, which has suffered more human deaths from the virus than any other country in the past 12 months, mean it is often cited as a possible launching point for a global influenza pandemic...

Part of the problem is a stalemate between Indonesia and international donors on how to fund the response to bird flu in the country.

Jakarta has asked for $900m (£494m) in grants over three years to finance a plan it submitted to an international donors conference in Beijing. But international experts argue $200m a year is far more realistic. More-over, many of the things Jakarta is asking for are things it should be prepared to pay for itself, they add.

“It’s a little bit absurd. I don’t know why people don’t call them on this,” said one expert. “What is this money going to be used for? It’s going to be used to build government institutions that should be there in the first place. It’s not [bird flu] specific. It’s things . . .  any civilised country should have.”

With no laws to stop him, the father who died in the cluster checked himself out of the hospital and went into hiding even as epidemiologists were examining samples from him.

Lab results have since shown the man caught the virus from his 10-year-old son, who in turn is thought to have caught it from an aunt. The father was one of a number of family members to visit infected relatives without wearing protective equipment. Because of that, the World Health Organisation and others believe he may have caught the virus while caring for his son in hospital.

Dr Muhammad Nur Rasyid Lubis, who runs the avian flu unit at Adam Malik Hospital where the cluster patients were treated, said a shortage of protective gear meant it rarely went to doctors and nurses, who also often reused gowns designed to be disposed of after one use.



Bloomberg is running with a story
that says the World Bank has released a report estimating that a worldwide bird flu pandemic that kills 70 million would inflict a global economic loss worth some $2 trillion.

A slump in tourism, transportation and retail sales, as well as workplace absenteeism and lower productivity, may cause the world economy to shrink by 3.1 percent...

The (World Bank) study predicted a surge in corporate bankruptcies in companies with a high level of debt to equity, such as airlines.

The Bank, which funds projects to alleviate poverty, is working with developing countries to improve hospitals and laboratories to bolster disease surveillance and management of bird flu. Human fatalities from the H5N1 avian influenza strain have almost tripled this year, providing more chances for the virus to mutate into a lethal pandemic form.

Since January at least 54 people have died from H5N1 as the virus spread in wild birds and domestic poultry across Asia, Europe and Africa. That compares with 19 fatalities in the first six months of 2005. In the past three years, at least 130 of the 228 people known to have been infected with H5N1 have died, according to the World Health Organization.

The most immediate and largest economic impact of a pandemic might arise from the uncoordinated efforts of people to avoid becoming infected, not from actual death or sickness...

The World Bank study assumes 20 percent declines in demand for tourism, transportation and other key services, which reduce global GDP by about 2 percent. The economic losses could range from $1.25 trillion to $2 trillion, according to the report.

Besides the immediate costs of disruption, a severe global flu pandemic could slash the size and productivity of the world labor force because of illness and death. The effect of the disease on the labor force would depend on factors including the virulence and spread of the disease and its impact on different age groups, Brahmbhatt said.

The Bank's scenario of a severe pandemic assumes about 35 percent of people worldwide would be infected. Of those, 3 percent, or about 70 million people, may die.

So what about the economic impact should those 'worst case' estimates of 150 million deaths, or more, made by the World Health Organisation late last year come true?

The more financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank sound the alarm about pandemic bird flu, the harder it becomes to ignore the truth that we are going to get hammered hard when, not if, the pandemic finally breaks out.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006




An adviser to the Australian government has estimated that an avian influenza epidemic, even one with only a fraction of the severity of the 1919 outbreak, would kill 40,000 poeople and shrink the economy by almost 7 percent.

Healthy adults aged 19 to 45 were among the hardest hit by the 1919 flu epidemic, which struck randomly, without regard to geography, climate or economic development.

But the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics says good health infrastructure and services could reduce the death rates.

Australia and other developed countries could lose 0.2 per cent of their total population, while 1.4 per cent of the population of developing countries would die.

ABARE estimates bird flu would kill 280 million people around the world. If the outbreak were as severe as the 1919 epidemic, between 180 million and 360 million would die.

Australia's proximity to Asia means its economy would suffer more severely than that of the US or Europe. ABARE estimates the Chinese economy would contract by 8.7 per cent, while the ASEAN economies would shrink by 7.1 per cent.

Even if Australia were successful in keeping bird flu out of the country, it would suffer a 3per cent fall in its economy as other nations were hit.

From The Australian :

...a medium level outbreak could cut Australia's gross domestic product (GDP) – currently $880 billion a year – by 6.8 per cent over the short term.

The Federal Government has been preparing the nation in case of an outbreak of the avian influenza, which has been spreading across the globe.

About 50 million surgical masks and 40 million syringes have been stockpiled, along with mass quantities of antiviral drugs including Tamiflu, widely regarded as the best drug for combating the disease.

In its June quarter report, the national forecaster says it believes a full-blown global pandemic would have reverberations across the country, with Queensland likely to feel the biggest economic consequences.

Any outbreak would affect a number of sectors, including transport services, such as air flights, which could face up to an 11 per cent decline, and tourism-related activities, which could potentially drop 18 per cent.

Its effect would begin in workplaces, which would start losing staff as people became ill or were put in quarantine, resulting in growing productivity losses.

The same report warns that, "in an extreme case", the Australian economy would not only be severely affected, it might actually breakdown :

"Effective measures would be required to ensure that, for example, the financial system and other key services were able to continue to operate in the face of a pandemic."

The final economic impact would be the effect of the disease on future consumption and investment patterns.

"They are difficult to quantify and in general the studies that indicate a major economic impact from a pandemic are the ones that assume substantial confidence effects," ABARE said.

Sunday, June 25, 2006




After weeks of downplaying the fact that the bird flu virus had passed from one human to another in Indonesia, when seven family members became infected and died with ten days, the World Health Organisation has now confirmed the H5N1 virus has undergone a "basic" mutation.

No threat of a pandemic, the WHO now claim. Had the World Health Organisation not previously claimed there was no mutation of the virus in Indonesia it might be a bit easier to believe them about the non-threat of an incoming pandemic.

There are serious fears now that if the World Health Organisation raises its Pandemic Alert Level the chaos on Asian financial markets could shatter economies across the region, and impact to the tune of many trillions of dollars around the world.

Go Here For More On How The Raising Of Pandemic Alert Levels Can Smash Economies.

While there is no confirmation that the World Health Organisation has done so, there are obvious motivations for the organisation to downplay, or delay, important news about bird flu in humans. Particularly when that news relates to mutations of the virus that may make it more likely to spread from human to human : a necessary early stage in a potential worldwide pandemic.

This from the UN's Co-Ordinator for fighting bird flu on the Indonesian family cluster that led to seven deaths and confirmation of a mutation of the H5N1 virus :
The woman got infected with the bird flu virus, and as a result of her being infected and her close contact with blood relatives, she infected six other people, including a young boy.

That's not uncommon. We have seen human-to-human transmission of this H5N1 virus before, but usually what happens is, that the person who gets the virus then does not pass it to anybody else.

However, one of the people who got to virus was a 10-year-old boy, who apparently then passed it on to his father.

The father did not pass it onto anybody else. But the reason why this is all quite interesting is that the virus appeared to change when it was inside the 10-year-old boy.

The genetic analysis of the virus from samples that were taken from the boy changed over time and that represented therefore a mutation.

Some amazing, shocking news coming out of the UK this morning.

Two female lab technicians are now under quarantine in Surrey, England, after fears surfaced they may have become infected with the bird flu virus.
One of the women caused a panic when she broke quarantine.

One is still confined to her house - and yesterday enraged officials by briefly leaving the property and putting the public at risk.

The other is back at work but is still being regularly tested for the deadly H5N1 strain of the flu virus.

Both work in the avian biology section of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which analyses samples from diseased creatures. They became suspects within eight days of each other. A source said: "No one can believe that this has happened twice in just over a week.

"There've been accidents in the past, but never in this lab."

One of the more remarkable facts surfacing in this story is the news that experts now believe the H5N1 virus can lay dormant in the human body for years, before circumstances, such as a depressed immune system, can allow the virus to "come alive" and kill the carrier.

Out of all the hundreds of stories I've read through while researching this blog, I can't recall ever having read any reports of the H5N1 virus "surviving in dormancy" within the human body.

The women, aged 25 and 50, are feared to have caught H5N1 after slashing their hands with infected blood stained needles.

The 25-year-old pierced herself on Wednesday while injecting chick embryos with H5N1 during tests.

She must spend 10 days in isolation at her home in Addlestone, Surrey, while blood and saliva are analysed.

She has to take her own DNA swabs to prevent cross-contamination.

The samples are collected from her doorstep by couriers. Nurses keep in regular phone contact. Yesterday, the technician breached Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rules by leaving her house.

Our source said: "Bosses will be furious she's put people at risk. She'll be kept in isolation for 10 days. If she doesn't fall ill, she'll be allowed back."

...she will continue to be monitored as H5N1 can lie dormant in the body for months.
Bird flu expert Clifford Warwick said yesterday the virus could flare up months after infection. He said: "H5N1 can go undetected in the body for years.

"Stress such as surgery could lower a person's immune system and allow the dormant virus to take hold. The disease would then be strong enough to get into red blood cells and could be passed through the air, in the breath or sneezes."

I'm not an expert on bird flu, but like I said from the hundreds of articles and reports I've read in the past nine months, these are the sorts of details rarely, if ever, reported before in the mainstream media.

That the bird flu virus can be picked up by humans, and then not manifest any physical symptons, and yet lie dormant within the body for months, or years, and then mix with a standard human flu virus and mutate into a form more easily passed from human to human....this is absolutely mind-blowing news.

If true, and taking into consideration the now WHO confirmed mutation of the virus in Indonesia, this means that any number of humans could become infected with bird flu and not know it, as they may not become ill within a short period of time, thus not showing any symptons of being infected.

And yet, they could carry the virus in a dormant state until a later date when it could mutate further and be passed on by close contact with other humans.

Truly remarkable.

Thursday, June 22, 2006



Forbes is reporting that the US Department of Veterans Affairs has made some thorough plans for how they will deal with the bodies of dead veterans during a bird flu pandemic.

In short, the hundred-plus military cemetaries across the US are expected to suffer from the same kinds of staff shortages as any other public, or private, organisation during a pandemic.

Staff will be home sick, mortuary workers will be over-run and there will simply not be time or manpower to give every veteran who dies of bird flu the standard kind of respectful funeral and grave site they would normally get.
The VA buries more than 250 veterans and eligible family members a day - about 93,000 a year.

Those burials could stop or be put on hold during a pandemic, presumably even as the tally of dead surges, according to a VA plan that lays out how it will cope with an influenza outbreak.

The government is preparing for a worst-case scenario of nearly 2 million deaths in the United States in a pandemic.

As for the dead, the VA said it may have to store bodies in refrigerated warehouses or trucks outfitted as temporary morgues.

As much as 40 percent of the national work force could be off the job in a pandemic, according to federal estimates.

During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the dead were sometimes buried in trenches, Fells said. Should another pandemic strike, it could take days to bury the dead, and perhaps only then in mass or temporary graves, he added.

"Will that be necessary? It may be and we have to be prepared if things get that bad," Fells said.

"If there's truly a catastrophic kind of thing - whether it be a bird flu pandemic or a massive, terrorist-instigated attack that would claim tens or hundreds of thousands of lives - a lot of that frankly involves bulldozers," said Mike Duggan, the American Legion's deputy director for national security and a Vietnam veteran.

For a while, back in 2003 and 2004, Vietnam became infamous as a kind of a 'bird flu central', due to a sprawl of outbreaks of avian influenza amongst poultry birds.

Now Vietnam has seemingly rid itself of the virus, and has been held up by the World Health Organisation as an example to the rest of the world as to how a country can contain and eliminate the killer flu.

But it has come at a cost to the traditional methods of raising poultry birds in towns and villages, where chickens and fowl often ran free in yards and in the streets.

Following international advice, Vietnam now looks set to "rezone" its indigineous poultry production, according to Peoples' Daily Online, "with focus on establishing large concentrated farms, slaughterhouses and markets."

"Vietnam...has already banned the breeding of fowls in inner areas of major cities and towns.

"Under the ministry's stipulation, farms with 500 breeding hens upward or at least 1,000 commodity fowls must be built far way from residential areas, schools, national roads and hospitals, while raising waterfowls freely in fields or canals without cages and fences are prohibited. Egg-hatching facilities must be at least 500m away from animal raising areas and houses.

"Besides restructuring the fowl production, Vietnam is re-zoning poultry distribution and slaughtering systems. The agriculture ministry and the Trade Ministry have asked cities nationwide to construct concentrated slaughterhouses in proper locations to eventually abolish small and scattered slaughterhouses in their inner areas.

"The two ministries have also instructed cities and towns to abolish live fowl markets in their inner areas, and build poultry markets far way from markets trading other products. Fowls and related products circulated in the market must undergo quarantine, and they must be transported in special-use vehicles, not simple means.

"Now, Vietnam is encouraging both domestic and foreign enterprises to engage in raising fowls on industrial scale and processing them in modern plants. Some foreign companies have shown interest in building poultry processing facilities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


The US Department Of Agriculture is facing increasing criticism for refusing to introduce a system of mandatory testing by poultry producers.

The volunteer system, where guidelines on how to conduct testing of poultry for the avian influenza are left up to poultry producers and state governments to enforce, has already been dismissed by the World Health Organisation, and other international agencies, as being inherently flawed and possibly extremely dangerous.

In short, a massive poultry farm in the US may find an unusual number of dead birds and decide that avian influenza is not responsible for what may not turn out to be a relatively hrmless anomaly of deaths.

Colonel Sanders, apparently, has well and truly spoken.

From the New York Times :

The Agriculture Department lacks a comprehensive plan for detecting avian flu, in poultry and wild birds, its inspector general's office said yesterday.

In an audit, the office found that the department relied too heavily on voluntary testing by the poultry industry and reports from state agriculture departments.

The audit began before Congress passed President Bush's plan for dealing with a pandemic flu outbreak, which gave the department an additional $91 million to fight avian flu....

....the agency had no plans to make the voluntary testing now conducted by the poultry industry mandatory.

In January, the National Chicken Council, an industry trade group, said that its members, which produce more than 90 percent of the country's chickens, would test every flock for influenza two weeks before slaughter.

Yesterday, Stephen Pretanik, the council's science director, said the industry was already sharing those test results with the Agriculture Department.

Poultry experts said in January that if the lethal flu strain arrived in American domestic poultry, complicated tests would not be needed to spot it. Unlike other bird flus, the A(H5N1) strain, which has killed millions of chickens and 130 people since 2003, can wipe out a flock of thousands in 24 hours.

That the federal government won't impose mandatory, compulsory periodic testing of poultry farms for avian influenza makes a mockery of the rest of the Bush administration's pandemic flu plans.

Human-to-human transmissions of the H5N1 virus are still believed to be rare, with the majority of the 180-plus human bird flu deaths coming from contact with infected poultry.

The most effective way to stop the virus from infecting humans, and then possibly mutating into a form that can pass easily between humans, is to ensure that there is no presence of the virus on any poultry farms in the US.

The standards demanded by the WHO of countries like India are being ignored in the US.

And probably for good reason. If a massive US poultry farm reported an unusual amount of poultry deaths, and the presence of the H5N1 was found, even if it was not spreading or killing any more birds, the World Health Organisation would demand that every single bird on the farm be culled, and restrictive quarantine zones be enforced for miles in diameter.

This could lead to losses in the millions of dollars, and create chaos in the area in which the quarantine zone has been implemented.

Sunday, June 18, 2006




Good God, no wonder the World Health Organisation was reluctant to shift the Global Pandemic Alert Level from Level 3 to Level 4, during the cluster outbreak in Indonesia in late-May, early-June.

As a columnist for explains :
"The moment the WHO shifts the alert level to Phase 4, expect a literal overnight collapse of the Asian markets similar to the currency crisis of 1997. That crisis started in July 1997 in Thailand, but it caused a global financial domino effect. That is what we are looking at with a Phase 4 warning."

Ahhh, thanks for the heads up.

Obviously there will be a massive demand for anti-virals, or a possible vaccine, against the Bird Flu virus should a human pandemic break out. This would, of course, mean that the stock price of biotech companies that manufacture anti-virals would skyrocket.

But apparently there are plenty of other ways to turn a big fat profit off a human avian influenza pandmeic, during which more than 100 million could die within months. : "The vast majority of stocks would decline, which is why we have suggested a December put option on the Standard & Poor's 500 index as a hedge...with respect to hedges, it is best to get in early."

December? Do columnists know something the rest of us don't?

Forbes explains that while biotech and pharmauetical companies' stocks may soar after the WHO announces a Level 4 warning, "Most other stocks are likely to plummet due to media shock."

After the initial selling wave has passed, however, bargain hunters will arrive, and we expect there will be a group of companies that quickly rebound once investors realize that their businesses will thrive in a national bio-emergency, assuming the companies can maintain manpower services. That is a big assumption, but it is worth sketching out a shopping list.

Health care is a goer, apparently. And companies that supply such essentials as oxygen cylinders will also do well - the infected will have great trouble breathing, and even those who aren't infected, and can afford round the clock oxygen, may decide to suck it instead of risking the air most others will have to share.

But there's plenty more areas in which to turn a buck while the world is swallowed up by a deadly pandemic. There's video-conferencing, "emergency communications" and online shopping networks, such as EBay. That's providing there's enough drivers to get the goods ordered online to the homes of the infected, or terrified.

Nice to see that gives us the straight info about how and why the beginnings of a human pandemic might be covered up :

"What are the chances of a pandemic? How lethal might the mutated strain be? How easily passed? How effective would the current anti-virals be? We honestly don't know, but we assume that government and WHO health officials will always downplay the seriousness of the situation to avoid sparking pandemonium on top of pandemic."

Yes, the WHO wouldn't want to terrify people by telling them the truth. Best to not let the punters know that they might be getting infected with a deadly virus simply by standing too close to an infected somebody at a bus stop who has just arrived home from Indonesia.

Of course, if people were told the truth (if a pandemic broke out) they might calmly and simply head to the shops to stock up, head home and get stuck into that pile of books they've been waiting to read for years while they wait out the six to eight passage of a pandemic wave.

We therefore believe it is prudent for individuals to acquire anti-viral medication at this time. Given supply shortages and the long lead times for manufacturing, it will probably not be available during a pandemic in the 2006 to 2007 time frame.

It's refreshing to know that even while a few million, or a hundred million, people are drowning on their own mucus and burning up with fever that stock market speculators in the know will keep themselves busy turning some neat, fast profits off the whole of human misery.

Nice One.


Biosecurity chiefs have imported the deadly strain of bird flu and are keeping it under "Fort Knox-style" security.

Biosecurity Minister Jim Anderton told MPs yesterday that samples of the H5N1 virus were imported to allow scientists to identify quickly whether suspected cases were real.

There was little chance the virus could escape or be stolen. "You'd have to take a nuclear bomb to the place ... I've been out to inspect it, it's sort of Fort Knox squared and then cubed."

....about a teaspoon of the virus was held in liquid form in vials, under strict controls.

The samples were being used to test whether H5N1 was present in New Zealand ducks, geese and other waterfowl. was expected the samples already in New Zealand would be grown in small quantities to allow continuing tests.


While there is a widely acknowledged shortage of anti-virals to cope with the earliest stages of bird flu infection in humans, let alone the existence of a vaccine, information now emerging points to a widespread shortage of face masks that could help ward off infection, or stop infected persons from spreading the virus further.

But some people have already come up with a solution to the last problem. Use a t-shirt. People with breathing difficulties, such as asthmatics might not be able to breathe through eight or so layers of t-shirt fabric, however.

In the event of a bird flu pandemic -- when medical supplies are expected to be in short supply worldwide -- a mask made out of an ordinary cotton T-shirt could keep the deadly virus out of people's lungs, said a local public health physician and two University of Pittsburgh researchers.

"It's a prototype. We've tested it on three people, but we thought it warrants getting the information out there," said David Hostler, a professor in Pitt's School of Emergency Medicine.

The mask is made by boiling a cotton T-shirt in water for about 10 minutes then letting it air-dry to sterilize the fabric and shrink it as much as possible. Using a pair of scissors, a ruler and a marker, Dato fashioned an eight-layer air filter that goes over a person's nose and mouth, as well as three sets of ribbons to secure the mask to a person's head.


China's chief veterinary officer on Thursday warned that bird flu is on the rise among migratory birds in China this year.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 1,168 migratory birds had been found dead in Qinghai and Tibet by June 1. The disease was striking more species of wild birds than last year.

Experts said these areas were all on bird migration routes between east Africa and west Asia.

Countries and regions on this route had reported outbreaks of avian influenza since July 2005, including Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, China, India and others, said experts.


David Nabarro, Senior United Nations Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, on June 14 praised Viet Nam and Thailand as model countries for controlling the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus.

"I hear everyday of new outbreaks of bird flu, but I also hear about heroic struggles by countries to combat it,'' Nabarro said.


The latest human bird flu infection on the Chinese mainland is worrying as it shows the H5N1 virus may have mutated and become as infectious in warm months as in cooler ones, Hong Kong's health chief said on Friday.

The virus thrives in lower temperatures and is usually most infectious in the cooler months between October and March.

But confirmation on Thursday that a 31-year-old truck driver in the southern city of Shenzhen has been infected has caused uneasiness.

"Is this because the virus has changed, so that it is highly infectious all year round? Or, if it is happening in summer, winter would be even worse?" said the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, York Chow.

He said the virus might have become "more virulent and spread wider than we've expected," though its mutation was not confirmed.

"If that is the case, the risk for humans to be infected in the future is higher," he added.

In neighbouring Shenzhen, authorities have stepped up virus prevention and surveillance efforts.

The local government said it will now report the situation relating to human bird flu cases every day.

The Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has been asked to enhance its surveillance of any pneumonia-like cases.

So far the city has not reported any poultry infections.

But vendors said they are required to disinfect shelves twice a day and stop on-the-spot slaughtering. Some supermarkets have stopped selling live chickens.

"Business is really bad. I didn't even sell one chicken today," said a vendor at a Xiangmei Road market.




Saturday, June 17, 2006


Reuters is reporting today :

The H5N1 virus thrives in lower temperatures and is more infectious in the cooler months between October and March in the northern hemisphere. But China's confirmation on Thursday that a 31-year-old truck driver in the southern city of Shenzhen had been infected by the disease has brought uneasiness.

"Is this because the virus has changed, so that it can be highly infectious all year round? Or, if it is happening in summer, winter would be even worse?" Health Secretary York Chow told reporters. "We will have to monitor further." most of the other cases, it is a mystery how he came to be infected because there was no known outbreak of the disease in poultry in the area where he lived.

Lo Wing-lok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong, said China must explain how the truck driver came to be infected when it claimed there were no H5N1 outbreaks in birds in the area.

"They ought to come up with a reasonable explanation how this man came to be infected. Blanket denials don't help at all. When they deny we have to think twice about accepting," Lo said.

He recalled an incident in late January when a chicken that was smuggled into Hong Kong from Shenzhen was found with H5N1.

"It took only one tiny bird to show that the virus is there (in Shenzhen)," Lo said, adding that China should disclose how it conducts disease surveillance in poultry.

"I don't know if there is insufficient surveillance or if the data is too frightening to be disclosed," he said.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006



First, a look back at how the US handled tens of thousands of bird flu victims in the 1918-1919 'Spanish Flu' pandemic :

They brought in steam shovels to dig graves. Caskets were rented — just long enough to hold a brief memorial service — and passed on to the next grieving family. The death toll of the 1918 flu pandemic was so overwhelming that the military commandeered trains to transport dead soldiers; priests patrolled the streets of Philadelphia in horse-drawn carriages, collecting bodies from doorsteps.

This story claims that US federal and state government officials, and an entire slew of medical
experts, are now "racing" to get pandemic preparations in place.

They still don't know when bird flu might start a human pandemic in the US, or even if it will, but the preparations are underway, regardless, apparently at full speed.

Lots of talk in the US media about stockpiling food for when the local supermarkets run dry (no trucks delivering stock) and whether or not a vacinne will be ready in time (unlikely, as a thorough vaccine needs to be created from the form of bird flu spreading between humans, it's not doing that yet, so no fullproof vaccine can be generated), and insurance companies and corporations like IBM are jumping into the latest gold rush to help out small and large companies who will face guaranteed staff shortages when, or if, the pandemic strikes.

But not much, not enough, discussion of how to deal with all the dead bodies.

And it is a human toll which could easily reach into the millions. It's the most obvious problem, but the most sensitive subject of all in regards to a bird flu pandemic.

Americans just don't like to talk about, or face, the possibility of death. Their own, or that of anyone they know.

...experts foresee 18 months of funeral homes being short-staffed, crematories operating round-the-clock, dwindling supplies of caskets and restrictions on group gatherings, such as memorial services. Morgues and hospitals would quickly reach capacity.

It is the local communities in small towns and cities across the US coming up with the most innovative plans to deal with the dead, which include turning ice hockey rinks into chilled morgues big enough to take hundreds of corpses at a time, backyard burials (with re-burials later when the pandemic has passed) and 'virtual funerals'. More on that in a moment.

The US government's Health And Human Services bureau has been holding seminars and conferences in every state over the past year, and has been upfront in telling local mayors and small town and city officials that if the Big Pandemic comes, they're basically on their own.

The federal government can give them guidelines, they can recommend procedures to follow, but there won't be enough Tamiflu for most people, and not even the largest and best prepared hospitals are expected to be able to cope - they're barely coping with daily emergencies as it is.

Mass graves in fields, parks or sporting stadiums are also being considered.

"They would bury the person with all the identification material and carefully keep track of that information," said Ann Norwood, a senior analyst at the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services. "After things calm down, we can locate the family, exhume the casket and put it wherever the family ultimately would like the body to rest."

"We've forgotten that people do die from infectious diseases, and our process of dying has become very sanitized...For the whole Western world, it's going to be a shock."

Funerals as they're now known will cease to exist during a pandemic.

Any large gatherings of people will not only be discouraged, but they will also be illegal.

But people will still want to pay their respects to dead friends and relatives, and will want to share their grief.

This is where the remarkable idea of 'virtual funerals' comes in.

Electricity is expected to remain on during pandemic waves in most parts of the US, at least for some hours of the day, as much of the electricity generation and delivery is automated.

Unlike other disasters with high death tolls, there won't be physical destruction to infrastructure, though shortages of workers will cause problems with maintenance and repairs during the expected length of each pandemic wave - an estimated six to eight weeks in duration, and there may be three or four in less than two years.

With millions of Americans advised to stay home during the peaks of each pandemic wave (to avoid exposure), and many others having to care for the sick, or the dying, the idea of gathering together to farewell a friend or relative online, via webcams and conference calls, is likely to become an everyday reality.

Sites like MySpace already host thousands of 'memorial' pages for the dead, where those who knew the memorialised can post their thoughts and farewells, and many of these are open to the public.

If virtual funerals become a reality during a pandemic, they may actually become extremely popular even with people who don't know the person being farewelled.

You would literally be able to shop through funerals being held online to learn details of the ones you might be interested in dropping in on.

You cuold read about the lives of the people being honoured, you could read up on their blog posts or best-of e-mails. You could see their photos and videos, read the memorials from friends and relatives and then decide if this is a funeral you might want to be a part of.

But if you've got online funerals, then obviously you would also have to have online, virtual wakes.

The online drinking parties now currenlty gaining in popularity - where people get drunk while chatting and swapping songs and videos with friends and strangers online, and showing off dance moves or tricks via webcams - may move into curious new territory.

But then, if you're confined to your home for six to eight weeks waiting out pandemic waves, and if you've lost loved ones to the bird flu yourself, such online wakes and activities might become just the thing to pass the time and to cope with the grief and loss so many people deal with alone in the real world.

Many, many stranger things have happened in our online world.

China's Ministry of Agriculture issued an emergency order today for local governments to tighten controls over poultry stocks to prevent bird flu contamination by migratory birds.

The order calls for strict supervision of areas below all possible flight paths of migratory birds, lakes and other sites with a record of bird flu infection.

Farmers living in these areas are advised to keep their poultry in coops to avoid contact with the migratory birds.

The ministry also ordered immediate reporting of any dead poultry or wild birds to county-level animal epidemic prevention agencies, and suspected cases must be reported to the state-level bird flu laboratories.

Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin told a ministerial conference on bird flu last week that prevention would be a long-term task and local governments should remain alert.

More than 80 cases of the virus have been reported in China since February 2004, affecting 24 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. Eighteen confirmed human cases with 12 fatalities have been reported since September.



From the UK Telegraph :

"The ability of mammals to contract and transmit the avian influenza virus has important human health implications. We know about cats as a potential host for avian influenza because of the extensive infection of cats in Asia in outbreaks there."

(A new) report calls for more research to better understand the results of exposure on feral cats, farm cats and household pets and the risks of transmission to poultry.

Unlike suggestions earlier in the year, an author of this new report says that culling would not be an option in stopping the possible spread of the bird flu virus via felines. More important was for cat owners to keep their cats inside and away from possible sources of infection.

Two years ago, there was the first report of a domestic cat vomiting, coughing up blood and dying from the avian influenza H5N1 virus in Thailand. Then came the death of 147 captive tigers fed virus-infected chicken carcasses and cases in Indonesia, where farmers already link the disease in cats to that in poultry.

Cats can become infected with the virus through contact with domestic and wild birds, and then excrete the virus from the respiratory and digestive tract, sometimes transmitting infection to other cats. Cats fed virus-infected chickens can be infected directly through the gut - a novel route for influenza transmission in mammals.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


MSNBC has a truly remarkable in-motion timeline of how the bird flu virus has spread around the world over the past three years, showing the sometimes freakishly dramatic spread of the virus amongst poultry, as well as a tally of the human bird flu infections and confirmed deaths.

It's done as an animation on a world map, and it has fare more impact than simply reading disparate reports of where the H5N1 virus has cropped up recently. It really puts the virus spread in perspective....too much perspective.

But keep your eye on what happens to Russia and China in August 2005. The virus spreads across these massive countries in a few short weeks, not months.

Very dramatic.

Well worth checking out.



After months of denials that there was a possibility that the avian influenza virus was spreading from human to human (the precursor to a possible pandemic), officials inside Indonesia, and assorted experts from around the world, are now saying the spread is "likely", "probable" "may have happened" and "suspected".

Next, we will learn that "communication breakdowns" delayed the long demanded truth about whether or not the H5N1 virus has mutated into a form that is likely to become epidemic, and then pandemic, in humans.

As usual, the real news barely rates a whisper in the Western media, particularly when some SuperBadGuy terrorist has been blown up.

Xinhua reports today :
Human-to-human transmission of bird flu probably occurred in Indonesia's seven cluster cases, a minister said. But he ruled out a pandemic of H5N1 across the archipelago.

This news broke after high level meetings with fellow officials from the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, Indonesia's Health and Agricultural ministries, the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the National Commission on Bird Flu.

"Limited human-to-human transmission may have occurred in small clusters in the country. It has not only happened in several regions in Indonesia but also in Azerbaijan and other places in the world," Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said Friday after a meeting with agencies involved in curbing the spread of the disease.

A member of the National Commission on Bird Flu, Emil Agustiono,would not confirm Aburizal's statement. "We need to do more research to prove it," he said.

"Above all, the public should not be panic but be wary of the threat from infected fowl, There has yet to be a pandemic. The virus strain is still the same and it's still coming from infected poultry."

The Indonesian government has now announced "plans" to intensify its fight to stop the spread of the virus amongst poultry, and that means more, and bigger, culls of infected birds and all those birds that may have been exposed to infection.

Interestingly, the Indonesian govermnet is going to dust off two old laws - the 1984 Epidemic Law and the 1967 Infectious Disease Control Law - to force people to comply with culling programs. Most recently, the Indonesian government has faced widespread anger and denial from poultry and bird owners, who argue vehemently the virus doesn't actually exist, and are not happy with the program of compensation.

But the new laws to be -reactivated will mean "sanctions" for those who "who obstruct the government's endeavors to control a plague or communicable disease outbreak."


A crackdown. Bigtime.

The gloves are coming off, which clearly shows the Indonesian government believes it is facing a larger, and far more dangerous, health crisis than it did a month ago.


Bad news from Bloomberg about how many human infections might be going unreported.

Indonesia is a huge country, with roughly 15% of the world's poultry population. Millions of homes have poultry birds in backyards pens, or running loose. The virus can spread from the birds themselves, or their droppings. And it seems fairly certain now that at least some people infected by birds can then pass the virus onto others via close contact :
"We're trying to get on top of the virus, but time is running out,. It seems people perceive bird flu happens on television, and they aren't aware that they too are at risk if they don't follow the required steps."

Human cases are taking seven days on average to be reported to world health officials, and national governments in the Asia- Pacific region are finding out five days after symptoms appear, according to the draft report. Delays in finding and isolating cases risk exposing people to the virus and increase opportunities for it to mutate into a pandemic form.

The report, written by organizations donating funds to combat avian and human influenza threats, is being discussed at the Influenza Partners' Senior Officials Meeting. The two-day meeting, which began yesterday in Vienna, is being hosted by the European Union, the U.S. and China.

Many Indonesians infected with avian flu are discovered too late in their illness to respond well to medical treatment, Supari said.

"It's often too late because sometimes doctors don't detect the symptoms...''




Sunday, June 04, 2006




The New York Times is reporting that the recent Indonesian 'cluster' of seven bird flu deaths, from the same family, may mask a deeper and more troubling spread of the virus through human-t0-human infections.

That countries like Indonesia, or China, are completely honest and utterly transparent in their acknolwedgement of human bird flu infections is essential to determining just how close the world may be coming to the much dreaded human pandemic.

There is still no sign that the pandemic has begun, in Indonesia, or any other country, but the deaths continue to mount, three to five more every week.

Tiny numbers, of course, compared to the spread of AIDS, TB and other deadly infectious viruses, but the 130+ plus deaths confirmed so far may not tell the true story of just how many have died from bird flu, let alone how many have been infected and survived.

It is the 'clusters' that trouble the watchdogs, like the World Health Organisation, the most.

When the 'clusters' are locked into family, or even tight village communities, then the WHO can claim that close, or intimate, contact is the cause of the virus jumping from one person to another. They can claim that the virus is not transmitting "easily" from human to human.

But if 'clusters' begin to light up across cities, across countrysides, then it will be a sign that a epidemic, or pandemic, is far more likely.

Last Tuesday, according to the New York Times, Maria Cheng, a W.H.O. spokeswoman, said there were "probably about half a dozen (clusters)". I don't think anybody's got a solid number."

This number is more than the "three or so" the WHO has previously admitted to, and it is well below the number that an independent 'bird flu virus' watcher like Dr Henry Niman claims is the reality.

...Dr. Angus Nicoll, chief of flu activities at the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, acknowledged that "we are probably underestimating the extent of person-to-person transmission."

Most clusters are hard to investigate...because they may not even be noticed until a victim is hospitalized, and are often in remote villages where people fear talking. Also, he said, by the time doctors from Geneva arrive to take samples, local authorities "have often killed all the chickens and covered everything with lime."

The W.H.O. is generally conservative in its announcements and, as a United Nations agency, is sometimes limited by member states in what it is permitted to say about them.

Still, several scientists have noted that there are many clusters in which human-to-human infection may be a more logical explanation than the idea that relatives who fell sick days apart got the virus from the same dying bird.

Dr. Henry L. Niman, a biochemist in Pittsburgh who has become a hero to many Internet flu watchers and a gadfly to public health authorities, has argued for weeks that there have been 20 to 30 human-to-human infections.

Dr. Niman says the authors of the Emerging Infectious Diseases article were too conservative: even though the dates in it were fragmentary, it was possible to infer that in about 10 of the 15 cases, there was a gap in onset dates of at least five days, which would fit with the flu's incubation time of two to five days.

And in a study published just last month about a village in Azerbaijan, scientists from the W.H.O. and the United States Navy said human-to-human transmission was possible. That conclusion essentially agreed with what Dr. Niman had been arguing since early March — that it was unlikely that seven infections among six relatives and a neighbor, with onset dates stretching from Feb. 15 to March 4, had all been picked up from dying wild swans that the family had plucked for feathers in a nearby swamp in early February.

The W.H.O. at first said (in relation to the most recent Indonesian 'cluster') an undercooked pig might have infected the whole family, but Dr. Niman discovered that the hostess of the barbecue was sick two days before the barbecue and the last relative was infected two weeks after it.

His prodding, picked up by journalists, eventually led the W.H.O. to concede that no pig was to blame and that the virus probably had jumped from human to human to human.

Dr. David Nabarro, chief pandemic flu coordinator for the United Nations, said that even if some unexplained cases were human-to-human, it does not yet mean that the pandemic alert system, now at Level 3, "No or very limited human-human transmission," should be raised to Level 4, "Increased human-human transmission."

Level 4 means the virus has mutated until it moves between some people who have been only in brief contact, as a cold does. Right now, Dr. Nabarro said, any human transmission is "very inefficient."

Level 6, meaning a pandemic has begun, is defined as "efficient and sustained" human transmission.

Ms. Cheng of the W.H.O. said that even if there were more clusters, the alert would remain at Level 3 as long as the virus dies out by itself.

"A lot of this is subjective, a judgment on how efficiently the virus is infecting people," she said. "If it becomes more common, we'd convene a task force to raise the alert level."

But how long will that take?

And will the impact on global stock markets of such a raising of the alert level enter into consideration of how and when this news is made public?

If, that is, they ever see the need to do so.

The spread of infections do not appear, today at least, to warrant such a rise in the alert levels, and the infection rates may never warrant such action to ever be taken.

Although there is no proof that such considerations would affect the W.H.O's ratcheting up of the Pandemic Alert Level, the mere possibility that the most recent Indonesian 'cluster' might have signalled a change by the WHO from Pandemic Alert Level 3 to Level 4, or higher, smacked the Indonesian currency hard, and lopped hundreds of millions off the value of stock related to airlines and travel companies.

Investors feared such a raising of the Pandemic Alert Level would affect the Indonesian tourist industry, and airline travel to the region in general. Many bailed.

The W.H.O won't raise their Pandemic Alert Level until they have totally quantifiable proof that the bird flu virus is transmitting between humans more easily, but this appears to also be a matter of interpretation of the available data.

There are no set guidelines, besides the vague wording mentioned in the quotes above, as to how the Alert Levels are determined.

It will be a decision made, presumably, around a table by experts. There may be arguments, there may be major disagreements.

When the decision has to be made, if it ever has to be made, it won't be made easily, or quickly.

But when they do see a need to move from Level Three to Four, a lot of money is going to be lost very, very fast on the stock and currency speculation markets.

This is troubling, because the pressure will now be on the health officials of countries like Indonesia to make sure that any truly bad news about bird flu spreading faster, and more easily, amongst humans is either delayed, played down or covered up completely.

That doesn't mean Indonesian health officials will cave in to such pressure and attempt to smokescreen the bad news.

But it's going to be a multi-billion dollar decision when (and if) it comes.

The W.H.O. can only maintain a certain level of awareness of how the virus may be spreading through Indonesia.

It can't be everywhere all at once, but the Indonesian government will know the truth long before the W.H.O. will, if bird flu becomes first epidemic, and then pandemic, in humans.

The question now is how honest will Indonesia be if it comes down to the worst case scenario?

Perhaps Dr Niman will know before everyone else. But at least we can be pretty sure he will get the word out, and fast.

Expediency in discolsure from all concerned will be utterly vital in the event of an epidemic or pandemic of bird flu in humans.

Every hour of every day will matter deeply, particularly in stopping the virus catching a ride out of Indonesia in the lungs, or in the mouth, of one of the thousands of tourists who exit the region ever single day.

A government like that in Australia claims it can move quickly to isolate travellers arriving in the country who may be showing signs, or symptons, of bird flu infection. Such as a racking cough or a high temperature.

But the virus takes two days to a week, or more, to manifest itself and begin its destruction inisde the human body.

If bird flu in Indonesia reaches epidemic or pandemic infection levels in humans, and manages to infects a traveller returning to Australia, but at the same time Indonesia delays revealing the bad news (for fear of the crushing financial impact), it is possible the infected persons could enter Australia, exit the airports and move into the community carrying, and theoritically spreadingm the new, more deadly, far more infectious, mutation of the bird flu virus.

The WHO faces a multi-billion dollar balancing act between raising the Pandemic Alert Level too soon, or too late.

Either wrong choice will be extremely bad news. One will see a loss of billions of dollars, the other may see the loss of millions of lives.

WHO Plans 24 Hour Emergency Response To Bird Flu Outbreaks

Bird Flu Outbreaks And Volcanic Eruptions Now Threaten Earthquake Ravaged Indonesians

United Arab Emirates Conducts Emergency Bird Flu Outbreak Drill With Armed Forces

Thursday, June 01, 2006



The answers to those questions depend vastly on which headline, and story, you believe.

Reading through some of the stories below, you will find that there is now even less consensus than before as to which is the chief method of bird flu spreading from country to country, and spreading around vast territories like Russia, China and Indonesia.

The influence of the international poultry trade and corporate poultry farming conglomerates, as to which method of spread becomes accepted by the mainstream cannot be dismissed.

Poultry is big business, now worth more than a hundred billion dollars a year around the world.

Last year, and earlier this year, when the focus of how bird spreads was centred around the involvement of migratory birds, the poultry trade was kept well out of the spotlight.

That might be about to change.

No Evidence To Implicate Wild Birds In Spread Of Bird Flu

Don't Just Assume Wild Birds Spread Virus, Say Scientists

Thailand Loses $1.2 Billion In Bird Flu Affected Poultry Trade

The Role Wild Birds Play In Spread Bird Flu Is Still Unclear

Experts Claim Wild Birds AND Poultry Spread Bird Flu

Multi-Billion Dollar Trade In Poultry And Wild Birds May Have Spread Bird Flu Around The World


Even while the major focus on stopping the spread of bird flu last year, and earlier this year, was centred on how migratory birds carried the infection from country to country, and then infected local birds where they landed, there were a small number of outsider experts who claimed this was all the wrong way round.

They theorised that it was the poultry farms themselves that were infecting the wild birds, and that it was the poultry farms, and the industrialisation of poultry farming, plus the legal and illegal international poultry trade, that was responsible for the spread of the H5N1 virus.

Now the migratory birds theory has been widely degraded, attention is turning towards the international poultry trade in some very serious ways.

From Bloomberg : "The fight to stop the spread of deadly bird flu is leading back to farms, health experts say.

"Officials looking to contain the avian influenza virus that may spark a human pandemic are downplaying the importance of migrating wild birds as the source of infections among domestic poultry.

"Farms and poultry traders are the more likely cause of the spread of the flu, which has killed 48 people so far this year, more than all of 2005.

"The focus on wild birds has led to misguided attempts to control the virus, Richard Thomas, a spokesman for BirdLife International, a Cambridge, U.K.-based conservation society, said in an interview.

"New research suggests the wild animals may be getting the virus from farm-based chickens and ducks.

"...scientists from more than 100 countries will meet today in Rome to try to shift the focus of prevention back to the animals that incubate the disease.

"The H5N1 virus has killed two of every three people infected this year...

"Almost all of the 218 known human H5N1 cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds, according to the World Health Organization in Geneva. Thorough cooking of meat and eggs kills the virus.

"About 200 million fowl have been culled or have died of the disease since late 2003, costing countries as much as $15 billion, according to the FAO.

"Generally, the spread of the disease hasn't taken the course that would be expected if it followed the migratory patterns.

"In Nigeria, which is on so-called migratory flyways, evidence has emerged that the virus was introduced there in February through trade in infected chicks, the FAO said."

"The number of chickens in Indonesia, where the WHO is investigating the largest known cluster of human infections, had risen to an estimated 271 million in 1997 from 61.8 million in 1969, according to the FAO."

Go here for the full story.

From the Sydney Morning Herald : "Time will be of the essence if a pandemic arises. It takes some months to produce a vaccine and it would be necessary to give two injections of vaccine at least two to three weeks apart to generate protection.

"One strategy would be to include the circulating H5N1 avian virus in the influenza vaccine that is produced each year to protect people from seasonal influenza.

"This would probably not protect us from a pandemic virus, but it might lessen the severity of the disease. Most importantly, it would give immune systems some exposure to H5N1, which might hasten the response to any new vaccine made for the pandemic virus.

"Putting the present H5N1 virus in the present vaccine could buy precious time if the next pandemic is caused by H5N1..."

The experts who wrote this editorial also claim that while avian influenza is "likely" to get into Australia, "we should not be overly concerned".

The core of their argument is that poultry farms, and chicken stocks, are positioned far enough away from each other that infected migratory birds would not be able to spread the virus around Australia as they fly from place to place.

While this is true, the factor of bird flu infections spreading through Europe, and across Asia, via poultry industry vehicles, workers and equipment, has not been ruled out by the World Health Organisation.

Go here for the full story.


According to the most recent figures, Indonesia now averages three human bird flu deaths a week.

The World Health Organisation seems to be sliding into a battle against the massive, though fragmented, bureaucracy of the Indonesian government as it tries to implement strong rules for containing the outbreaks in poultry and humans.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands with a population of 220 million people, has a patchwork of local, regional and national bureaucracies that often send mixed messages. The impression, health officials said, is often that no one is truly at the helm.

"I don't think anyone can understand it unless you come here and see it for yourself," said Steven Bjorge, a WHO epidemiologist in Jakarta. "The amount of decentralization here is breathtaking."

The WHO claims the familial "cluster", which killed seven blood relatives in an Indonesian village in May is isolated, and there is no solid proof of the virus being transmitted human-t0-human outside of the one family involved.

"We're tying to fix this leak in the roof, and there's a storm," World Health Organization spokesman Dick Thompson said. "The storm is that the virus is in animals almost everywhere and the lack of effective attention that's being addressed to the problem."

Thompson claims that while Indonesian Health Ministry officials will meet with outside experts to work out how they are going to fight, and contain, the spread of bird flu, the officials don't hold the kind of power and sway within the government to get the new plans implemented.

"Their power only extends to the walls of their office," Bjorge said, adding that the advice must reach nearly 450 districts, where local officials then decide whether to take action.

"The local government has the money, thus the power to decide what to prioritize," said Hariyadi Wibisono, director of communicable disease control at the Ministry of Health. "If some district sees bird flu as not important, then we have a problem."

Indonesia has clocked up 25 human bird flu deaths since January.

The majority of the 127 human bird flu deaths, so far, are spread between Indonesia and Vietnam.

Because the bird flu virus has not been seen to be spreading amongst other humans in the village where seven family members died, WHO experts are still considering the possibility that there is a genetic vulnerability to bird flu infections, and deaths.

Go here for the full story.