Friday, September 29, 2006


From Reuters :

China has shared long-sought samples of the H5N1 bird flu virus, in what many scientists view as a breakthrough in cooperation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

China has shared samples from human cases...The samples, taken from some of the thousands of wild birds which died in Qinghai Lake in April 2005, have been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a WHO collaborating centre in Atlanta, for further analysis, WHO officials said. "

Leading scientists have repeatedly expressed concerns that China was not sharing all genetic data from bird flu cases -- widely seen as vital to track mutations and develop a vaccine against a human pandemic.

"Most people do see it as a breakthrough for cooperation," Perdue told Reuters.

Chinese scientists have published some analyses of the samples, but the CDC is expected to carry out more sophisticated testing with antibodies which will reveal variations of immune responses, according to the WHO expert.

Hualen Chen, head of China's national avian influenza reference laboratory in Harbin, was among 70 scientists worldwide who last month announced the launch of a global body to share genetic bird flu data.

The WHO has confirmed 21 human bird flu cases including 14 deaths in China since November 2005.

From the :

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu which has killed at least 148 people is showing signs of being able to mutate and develop resistance to the most effective anti-viral drugs and any possible vaccines yet to be produced, a WHO scientist said Thursday.

The H5N1 virus is splitting into genetically different groups, said Mike Perdue, a team leader with WHO's influenza program who took part in a two-day bird flu conference earlier this week sponsored by the U.N. health body.

...the virus has now been shown to mutate like seasonal flu viruses that require new vaccines every year. "We are going to have to come to the realization that these viruses are genetically variable," Perdue said. "The vaccines that we have predicted to be protective today may not be protective a year from now."

The two most effective anti-viral drugs currently in use are also in danger of losing their potency, according to influenza experts.

"We know from surveillance studies and from hospital clinical studies that resistance to the two primary anti-viral drugs, the Tamiflu and Amantadine drugs, have already occurred," Perdue said.



The Spanish Flu in Spokane, Washington, 1918

We've covered this information before but it remains important to understand just how the H5N1 virus is able to do so much damage, so quickly, to the bodies it infects.

The story below also contains one of the first descriptions we've found of a possibly effective 'two-punch' drug combination to kill off the virus after infection takes place.

While in Bali last month, I saw a doctor interviewed on television mention that the 'two-punch' combo of drugs had been used on patients during the last 'familial cluster' outbreak in Indonesia, but I haven't been able to find a confirmation of that in any online publications or research papers.

Highlights from this Times of London story :
THE “Spanish” flu that killed up to 50 million people in 1918-19 owed its peculiarly devastating symptoms to a huge overreaction by the body’s own defences, research suggests.

Analysis of the re-created 1918 virus has already established that it has similarities to H5N1, although it belongs to a different strain, H1N1.

The Spanish flu triggered a much more extreme immune reaction in the animals’ lungs, activating genes that kill off infected cells in order to clear the body of disease.

While this response is normally a critical part of the body’s defences against infection, when it is too strong it can cause as much damage as the disease itself. This could explain why the 1918 virus was so lethal.

“What we think is happening is that the host’s inflammatory response is being highly activated by the virus, and that response is making the virus much more damaging to the host,” Dr Kash said.

“The host’s immune system may be overreacting and killing off too many cells, and that may be a key contributor to what makes this virus more pathogenic.”

By understanding how this immune overreaction takes place, the researchers hope that they may be able to find a way of damping it down, so that infections with virulent forms of flu do not harm the patient.

A parallel treatment strategy could then be adopted: an antiviral drug, such as Tamiflu, would be given to kill the virus, while an anti-inflammatory was used to temper the immune system’s activity.

1918 'Spanish Flu' Survivors May Hold Important Clues To Future Flu Fight

Research Into 1918 Virus Can Help Bird Flu Fight

Why Did The 'Spanish Flu' Kill So Quickly?

Wikipedia's 'Spanish Flu' Page

Wednesday, September 27, 2006



The man taken to a Sydney hospital with a suspected case of bird flu is instead feeling the effects of a burst bag of drugs in his stomach, reports Yahoo7News.

The 36-year-old arrived from Vietnam this morning and remained in isolation while he underwent tests which revealed he had swallowed heroin.

The passenger was allegedly a drug mule, carrying a stomach full of heroin-filled condoms which burst mid-flight.

It is understood he was unconscious for several hours during the flight before being taken to St. George Hospital, in Sydney's south.

The man's wife claimed her husband had recently visited a farm in Vietnam and eaten chicken.

Fellow passengers were initially quarantined but have now been allowed to leave.

That the other passengers on the flight were "initially quarantined" is a fact not revealed in any of the media reports earlier today, as I highlighted at the bottom of the original story below.

As a major centre of international travel, Sydney has one of the most comprehensive response plans to the arrival of bird flu in the world. Today, the Bird Flu Response Plan got a full workout.

A man travelling from Vietnam to Sydney was already ill before he boarded the plane. Passengers have told ABC news that he was unconcious for most of the trip.

The pilot, as required by law, radioed ahead to say there was an extremely ill person on board. He was taken off the flight at Sydney International Airport, by bio-suited medical staff, and taken to St George Hospital, which has a quarantine facility specifically set up, last year, to deal with international travellers who might be sick with bird flu.

The man is reported to have admitted he and his wife had visited a poultry farm in Vietnam, shortly before travelling to Australia, and they had eaten chicken at the farm.

All the passengers on the flight in question have had their personal details collected, but have not been tested for bird flu, or quarantined, as the Bird Flu Response plan would require were any of them also showing signs of infection. It appears none were.

It is highly unlikely that the man, under quarantine for the time being, is carrying an infectious form of bird flu. That he is sick with the bird flu virus has not yet been ruled out, but the health authorities are not concerned enough to have quarantined all passengers and flight crew, as per the response plan.

The man is currently being tested for the H5N1 virus at St George's Hospital.

From :

Jeremy McAnulty, director of communicable diseases at NSW Health, said the man was in his 30s and is being assessed by clinicians in an isolation ward at a Sydney hospital.

"We understand that the person was relatively well but had some flu-like symptoms potentially in the last few days - the history is a little bit vague," Dr McAnulty told a media conference.

"[He] was on the plane and then was difficult to rouse in waking up in the morning time as [the plane] was about to land in Sydney.

"For that reason and the reason of a history of flu-like illness and being in Vietnam, in a place particularly around chickens, we wanted to exclude the possibility of avian influenza."

He said further information since then suggested it was "very unlikely to be avian influenza".

Under Australian quarantine laws all airlines are required to report ill passengers to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service prior to landing.

But then there's this from a story :
"This person has a recent history of being in an area with chickens in Vietnam and of having a previous influenza-like illness," the spokeswoman said.
The avian influenza virus is expected to have the highest chance of mutating into a pandemic-ready form when a person already suffering from flu-virus infection comes into contact with the H5N1 virus (most likely from infected birds) and then the two viruses merge.

Bird Flu Diagnosis Unlikely, Says NSW Health

We Must Remain Vigilant On Bird Flu, Say Experts

From the International Herald Tribune :
Members of a pandemic flu task force discussed how they might advise the World Health Organization if a global outbreak strikes, in the group's first meeting since being formed by the WHO, officials said Tuesday.

Sixteen of the 21 experts on the Ad Hoc Influenza Pandemic Task Force met in Geneva on Monday to define their role if a pandemic flu strain was identified...

Responses could include a rapid containment effort in the early stages of a pandemic, alerting governments to risk and accelerating vaccine production.

The task force also can give guidance on issues such as sharing between laboratories of virus specimens being monitored or used to make vaccines, said Dr. David Heymann, WHO's top flu official.

The task force, which only would be called in emergencies, has a mandate to work until June 15, when WHO's revised International Health Regulations come into effect. Most governments have adopted the regulations on preventing and responding to infectious disease threats.
From Novosti :
The first Russian trials of a human vaccine against the H5N1 bird flu virus was a success, a Russian research institute member said Monday.

Marina Yerofeyeva, a lab head at a research center specializing in flu viruses, said three of the six tested versions of the vaccine proved successful, and researchers will now select the most appropriate one.

"There will be two assessment criteria," Yerofeyeva said. "The first is vaccine safety, i.e. volunteers' response to a vaccine in question. The other criterion is the number of immune bodies a vaccine produces in volunteers' blood tests."

Three versions of two types of the vaccine were tested on six groups comprising 20 volunteers each, and none of the volunteers complained of complications or serious disorders after they were injected with the serum, Yerofeyeva said.

Yerofeyeva said two or three vaccine versions will be tested on larger volunteer groups of about 100 people in the next stage of the effort against the disease. Scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form transmissible between humans, sparking a global pandemic.

The disease has spread worldwide since it was first spotted in Asia in 2003, and has claimed dozens of human lives. No human fatalities have been reported in Russia.

This year, an epidemic of the deadly virus broke out in five Siberian and 11 southern regions, resulting in the deaths and culling of about 1.5 million birds.

Several research centers will be involved in the second phase, and commercial production of the vaccine can begin after its completion, the researcher said.

"I believe the problem will be resolved, and that vaccine production will be launched by next spring," Yerofeyeva said.

She said the vaccine is likely to be given mainly to people in high-risk groups, including poultry farm workers, hunters and veterinary workers.

If the pandemic becomes a reality, and this vaccine works, we will likely see a very bitter war between Russian drug companies and those massive monopolies owned by the West. No drug maker in the West is claiming to be even close to successful human trials with a bird flu vaccine.

However, if the pandemic arrives, companies in Australia, the US and the UK have cut cut deals to begin vaccinations with drugs that have not been thoroughly trialed, at this time.

If the pandemic comes and puts millions into sick beds (and hundreds of thousands into graves) and Russia is able to successfully vaccinate a large percentage of its key workers, Russia will enjoy a massive financial advantage over Western nations, which could be effectively shut down by worker shortages and the fears attached to potential exposures in public places.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said force should be appplied to cull bird-flu infected fowl in order to prevent the spread of the virus effectively.

The VP said local authorities could use the Law on Prevention of Contagious Diseases in forcing people to surrender their fowls to be culled.

He said the government was mobilizing military personnel in bird flu prone areas in the country to cull fowls by force if breeders whose birds were infected with the bird flu virus refused to give up their fowls.

Go here for the full story.


This results of this particular study have been a long time coming, and many researchers around the world will be stunned to learn that one of the most feared theories of how the current H5N1 avian influenza virus kills its human hosts has turned out to be true.

From the New York Times :

Avian flu kills in much the same way the global flu pandemic of 1918 did, by drowning victims in fluid produced in their own lungs, a new study has found. The study also suggests that immediate treatment with antiviral drugs is crucial, because the virus reproduces so quickly that, if not suppressed within the first 48 hours, it tends to push victims into a rapid decline to death.

“The paradigm ‘hit hard and hit early’ probably is very true for H5N1 influenza,” said Dr. Menno D. de Jong...

However, he added, because the body’s own immune response does part of the damage, doctors should consider giving anti-inflammatory drugs along with antivirals like Tamiflu.

This study, which appears in the October issue of Nature Medicine, was led by an Oxford research team in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and compared 18 people with the A(H5N1) avian flu in 2004 and 2005 to 8 people infected with seasonal human flus.

It found that the avian flu patients, and particularly the 13 who died from it, had unusually high levels of the virus in their bodies. Consequently, they also had high levels of the chemicals, known as cytokines and chemokines, that set off the immune system’s inflammatory response.

Those chemicals, some of which are produced in cells lining the narrowest passages in the lungs, draw in white blood cells to attack invaders. But doing so too vigorously can flood the lungs, causing deadly pneumonia.

The effect, known as the “cytokine storm” is the leading theory as to why so many young, previously healthy people died in the 1918-19 pandemic, known as the Spanish flu, which killed tens of millions of people.

Seasonal flus tend to kill the very old and very young, who usually die from bacterial infections that develop days after the milder flu virus has irritated their lung tissue.

The study also showed that some of the flu strains isolated in Vietnam had particular genetic changes that virologists have been watching for, fearing that these changes would make them more lethal.

Go here to read the whole story.


From The Scotsman :

In Vietnam, the H5N1 bird flu virus has been found to replicate with far more more aggression in humans than common human flu viruses.
A study of patients in Vietnam also found the virus in the blood stream of many of the human victims, which means it may have spread to other parts of the body, it was reported in Nature Medicine.

Thirteen (infected humans) with H5N1 died and the virus was found in the blood of at least nine of them.

The virus was also found in the rectums of most of those with H5N1, suggesting it could have spread through the blood stream into the gastrointestinal tract.

Those with common flu had no virus in their blood or rectum. No-one died in that group.

"The fatal outcome of H5N1 infections seems to be associated with high levels of replication of the virus and also the detection of the virus in the blood...
Go here for the full story.

From the Money Times :

Bird Flu in Indonesia is spreading like wild fire, making it the most affected country of Asia.

The World Health Organization today confirmed the death toll to be 48.

The deaths, which occurred last year, were also added to the recent tallies because of some changes in the standards set by WHO.

The 14 year old girl from Makassar in South Sulawesi province who died on June 24, 2005 and the 8 year old girl from Tangerang in Banten province who died on July 14, 2005, were also added to the list.

Three More Cases Of Human Bird Flu Infection Reported In Indonesia

Indonesia Launches Media Blitz To Raise Awareness Of Avian Influenza

Saturday, September 02, 2006


A detailed, fascinating and extremely disturbing, story about the problems faced by WHO experts trying to stop the spread of the bird flu virus amongst the human populations on Indonesian islands like Sumatra.

This is the story of the death of an Indonesian man who refused hospital treatment, and the alleged Tamiflu 'cure', after he became infected with the bird flu virus and fell heavily ill :

Agenda Purba, a witch doctor from Jandi Meriah, chanted over 21 betel nut leaves, filled with blossoms, a pasty white lime, brown chunks of an astringent and bits of an orange-colored nut.

He prayed for the young man's recovery, then chewed the first of the leaves and softly spit onto Jones' forehead. Purba repeated the process until he had finished the leaves, slathering the torso, arms, legs, hands and feet, making sure to cover all the joints.

"I'm the one to save Jones," Purba said. "There will be no more casualties."

When Dowes Ginting developed a fever and began coughing, he fled in search of a witch doctor. Another medicine man in Jandi Meriah, Suherman Bangun, began the incantations and betel-nut spit treatment. After three days, Indonesian and international health investigators tracked the sick man to the village and urged his family to take him to a hospital. The relatives demurred.

That night, Dowes took an abrupt turn for the worse.

Shortly before dawn, Dowes rose to use the bathroom. Staggering, he could hardly breathe. His uncle lugged him to his SUV and set off for the district hospital.

Before they made it, Dowes had died.

Go here for the fully story.