Thursday, November 30, 2006


More than 12,000 poultry birds have died at a second South Korean farm. At least 200 of the birds have tested positive for a highly virulent strain of the avian influenza virus. South Korea's agriculture ministry refuses to confirm or deny that the virus is now spreading further.

China has issued a series of alerts about the threat posed by the growing spread of bird flu in South Korea. China is now considering banning live poultry markets.

The culling of dogs, cats and pigs has now begun in South Korea, although authorities claim that animals kept as pets will not be killed. Dogs are often kept in cages, or tied up in yards, by older South Korean men, who slaughter the dogs for their meat. Dog soup is believed to increase stamina and virulence.

A new series of dire claims about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic in the United States are causing alarm.

The UN chief in charge of fighting the spread of bird flu said that although great progress has been made so far, prevention and eradication programs in regions like Africa still remain grossly underfunded. Another $1.3 billion is estimated to be needed to continue countering the spread of H5N1.

Officials in Canada are denying rumours spread via the internet that a 9 year old boy was hospitalised with a case of bird flu infection in Quebec.

Government agricultural officials in Uganda have banned the transportation of chickens in family, or public, vehicles.

The United Nations led fight to stop the spread of bird is expected to turn its attention more and more to Africa and away from Asia in the coming months.

Pakistan is about to begin a rollout of measures to stop the spread of bird flu.


It's only a theory for now, but it reads like something out of a nightmarish horror novel nobody has yet written (as far as I can research online). So what happens if the 1918 bird flu virus comes into contact with today's H5N1 strain? Do they cancel each other out? Or do they recombinate to deliver us the long-feared second global pandemic in 100 years?

From Bloomberg :
Influenza viruses may be preserved in glaciers and Arctic ice for thousands of years and released into the environment when the frozen water is thawed, potentially touching off lethal pandemics, researchers said.

Global warming may speed the release of the microbes, increasing the frequency of outbreaks, according to a study in the December issue of the Journal of Virology.

The study is based on tests of water and ice from three lakes in Siberia, where large populations of migratory waterfowl breed before traveling to North America, southern Asia, Europe and Africa.

The finding may help explain the constant emergence of influenza A-type viruses that cause seasonal epidemics and occasionally set off pandemics capable of killing millions of people. Disease trackers are monitoring flu viruses amid an outbreak of the H5N1 strain, known to have infected 258 people in 10 countries in the past three years, killing 153 of them.

The spread of H5N1 in late 2003 has put the world closer to another pandemic than at any time since 1968, when the last of the previous century's three major outbreaks occurred, according to the World Health Organization.

Many species of aquatic birds flock to Siberia and other areas near the Arctic Circle for breeding during the Northern Hemisphere's summer before flying south during the fall.

As the birds visit lakes along their paths they shed viruses into the water and onto any ice present, and drink water containing viruses discharged by other birds or released from the ice by thawing, the authors said in the study.

In previous studies, the authors, who include researchers from Israel's Bar-Illan University and the Russian Academy of Sciences, documented the preservation of viruses, bacteria, and fungi in glacial ice for as long as 140,000 years.

Surveillance of Arctic lakes may help disease trackers predict which flu strains will cause future outbreaks and shape long-term vaccination strategies, the researchers said.

Until refreezing takes place, viruses of both present and past strains may be contracted by the waterfowl, allowing old and new viruses to continually recombine, the study said.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006



From the Boston Globe :

If a much-feared worldwide pandemic flu hits Vermont with all its fury, public gatherings could be banned and schools closed. Hospital wards would be set up in tents or gymnasiums. Flu medications would be parceled out, and nonessential medical care suspended.

The number of dead could overwhelm the state's medical examiners and morgues, forcing the state to rent refrigerated trailers to store bodies.

In the end, Vermonters would have to ride out a worst-case pandemic flu outbreak, which could come in waves and last a couple of months. By the time it was over, more than 3,000 people would be dead. Normally about 5,200 people die in Vermont every year.

That's the worst-case scenario state health and emergency preparedness officials are planning for.

In preparing for avian flu, health officials look to the worldwide flu pandemic of 1918 that killed millions. In Vermont an estimated 23,000 people were sickened and 1,800 died.

"The hysteria is justified," said Cote.

But public health officials learned a lot from the 1918 pandemic . For instance, that flu was spread at large public gatherings such as parades, Cote said.

Over the last two years, Vermont has spent more than $2 million in federal grants and state appropriations to prepare for the flu.

There have been numerous exercises involving scores of officials from dozens of communities and agencies; there have been planning sessions, and Vermont is working with other states to coordinate responses to a pandemic. There have been mock vaccination clinics, and Vermont is acquiring 300,000 protective masks for health care workers and 65,000 doses of Tamiflu, a drug that reduces the length and severity of flu symptoms.

Even if a flu pandemic never occurs, preparations under way could be used for other health emergencies, a terrorist attack, or other potential hardships , Cote said


The current outbreak of the bird flu virus amongst poultry in South Korea provides a good example of just how fast panic over the virus can spread, how fast it can kill, how quickly a government can move to deal with the outbreak, after initially denying it, and how rapidly bizarre containment measures can become a disturbing reality.

On Friday, November 24, the first stories began to appear detailing what an outbreak of what was deemed to be a "low-grade" version of the avian influenza virus.

This from The Star :

A low-grade strain of bird flu has killed 200 chickens south of the South Korean capital, the agriculture ministry said Friday.

The ministry identified the strain of bird flu as "low pathogenic'' and said that it was neither the H5N1, which can be lethal to humans, nor the less dangerous H5N2 strains.

The ministry said it would take preventive measures, including disinfecting the remaining 19,000 chickens at a chicken farm in Pyeongtaek city, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Seoul.

Around 6,000 chickens have died there, prompting authorities to cull a further 6,000 to prevent the possible virus from spreading, said the ministry, adding that it could confirm this weekend whether it was the H5N1 strain.

South Korea culled 5.3 million birds during the last known outbreak of bird flu in 2003. The H5N1 virus began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003 and has killed at least 153 people worldwide.

The next day, the financial media had picked up on the story, and the facts were quite different. Not only was the South Korean outbreak confirmed as as the H5N1 strain, it had now become "highly pathogenic", and this revelation came from the same SK agriculture ministry that said less than 24 hours before that the outbreak was of a low pathogenicicty.

From :
A highly pathogenic strain of the H5N1 bird flu was responsible for the deaths of 6,000 poultry on a South Korean farm, the nation's agriculture ministry said. It ordered the slaughter of 236,000 nearby animals to stem the spread of the disease.

The farm in the southwestern town of Iksan had housed 13,000 head of poultry. Almost half of the brood died since Nov. 19, the Seoul-based agriculture ministry said in a statement today. All animals within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of the farm will be culled, it said.

"The H5N1 strain was verified as highly pathogenic,'' the ministry said.

The difference between "highly pathogenic" and "low pathogenic" is fairly straightforward, and explains how easy it can be to miss a strain that begins with a low pathogenicity and can quickly evolve into the far more deadly high pathogenic strain.

Low pathogenic bird flu virus is said to cause only mild symptons in poultry stocks. Egg production may drop off slightly, or the birds could look a little mangy, feathers unusually ruffled. Such mild changes in egg laying or the physical appearance of the poultry can be easy to miss on farms which hold, literally, hundreds of thousands of chickens or fowl.

But high pathogenic bird flu virus, according to the World Health Organisation's own website, is far easier to recognise.

Within 48 of infection, the birds become clearly ill, as the virus destroys internal organs, and it spreads rapidly. The World Health Organisation now talks about 100% mortality rate for poultry. Which means if all the poultry on an infected farm are not culled, it is very likely they will all die, regardless, and this could hasten the spread of the virus to areas outside the infected farm.

By Monday, November 27, the situation in South Korea had become absolutely dire. Hong Kong and Japan had banned all poultry imports from South Korea, more than 125,000 poultry birds had been slaughtered, and a cull of all poultry within 500 metres of the infected farm was underway. 240,000 poultry birds are estimated to be culled within the next few days, and some 6 million eggs will also be destroyed.

But the South Korean agriculture ministry also announced it was planning to cull dogs, cats and pigs.

From Medical News Today :
Officials did not say how many dogs, cats and pigs will be culled. Outside Korea, the only place other animals, apart from birds, that have been destroyed has been Indonesia, where pigs were killed to stem the spread of bird flu. In 2003/2004 South Korea destroyed 5.3 million birds and an unspecified number of cats and dogs.

Other countries do slaughter cats and dogs, they just don't admit to it, say South Korean officials. Peter Roeder, Food and Agricultural Organization, Rome, Italy, told the Associated Press the measure is highly unusual and not a science-based decision.

By Tuesday morning, November 28, the London Times claimed the slaughter of dogs in South Korea was about to begin :

Health officials in the town of Iksan, 250km (155 miles) south of the capital, Seoul, intend to kill 577 dogs and an unspecified number of cats after an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza among farm chickens.

Some health experts believe that the killing of dogs and cats is unnecessary and will not impede the disease. “It is highly unusual, and it is not a science-based decision,” said Peter Roeder, of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation. “We’ve got absolutely no reason to believe they are important.”

“Other countries do it,” said Kim Chang Sup, of the South Korean Health Ministry. “They just don’t talk about it. All mammals are potentially subject to the virus and South Korea is just trying to take all possible precautionary measures.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


From the UK Guardian :
Some of Britain's top scientists yesterday accused the government of failing to listen to expert advice in its preparations for a flu pandemic and of stockpiling a single drug, which might not work, to treat the population.

Over 14m doses of the drug, Tamiflu, have been delivered, but two leading scientific institutions, the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences, say the government should be buying similar quantities of a second drug, Relenza, as well.

Reports from south-east Asia suggest that in a few cases Tamiflu has not been effective because the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has proved lethal to humans, has developed resistance to the drug.

The order of 14.6m courses of Tamiflu was completed in September and is intended to be enough to treat 25% of the population. But even if Tamiflu works against H5N1, it may need to be given in larger doses than originally intended and there will be no time to manufacture more between waves of the pandemic, so the stockpiles of both Tamiflu and Relenza may need to be larger than at present, the report says.

Tamiflu attracted further controversy last week when it was linked to suicidal feelings among some young people.

A 10-month review by the US drug regulation body, the food and drug administration, identified 103 incidents where young people on the drug had demonstrated disturbed behaviour, including a 17-year-old youth who jumped in front of a truck and a 14-year-old boy who died when he fell after climbing on a balcony railing.
Go Here To Read The Full Story

Monday, November 20, 2006


The threat of a worldwide bird flu pandemic, large enough to kill more than 100 million people and cost the world economy trillions of dollars, is probably the most over-hyped non-event of the past year.

Hopefully, we haven't hyped the threat beyond what you would find in most mainstream newspapers. The aim of this blog was to not only track the spread of the virus, but to follow the reportage of the events in the media.

While the threat of a worldwide bird flu pandemic remains, two news reports out of Australia now claim the threat has been somewhat diminished, if not thoroughly downgraded.

From :

A bird flu pandemic may have already been averted by large-scale chicken culls and containment of infection, Australia's chief medical officer John Horvath says.

The bird flu virus H5N1, which has spread from chickens to humans in Asia and killed about 200 people, is seen as the biggest current pandemic threat. But while it has three of the four elements needed to cause a pandemic - it can infect humans, cause severe disease and there is little immunity to it - it apparently cannot transmit efficiently from human to human.

"It may be that the world has already averted an influenza pandemic by actions it has taken in response to H5N1, such as extensive culling of poultry and isolation of infected humans," Prof Horvath wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.

"Yet all preparations may seem insufficient if the world comes face to face with a rapidly spreading novel (influenza) virus like the one that emerged in 1918."

The world had changed since previous pandemics, he warned, with faster and cheaper international travel, and more densely populated countries potentially making it easier for disease to spread.

"Economies are more interdependent and many businesses, including medical practices, operate on a 'just in time' basis for delivery of essential supplies."

Nonetheless, governments and communities were better prepared than ever, Prof Horvath said.

Writing in the same federal government sponsored report, leading Melbourne immunologist Peter Doherty said some kind of pandemic outbreak was a certainty in the future, but...
...the research community was divided over whether the H5N1 virus would be the one to spread rapidly....
Austalia has spent between $600 and $750 million on bird flu preparedness, including the stockpiling of millions of doses of untested vaccine, and funding education and culling programs in South East Asia, particularly in Indonesia.

From the ABC's 'PM' :
Australia's Chief Medical Officer says the threat of a pandemic may have passed, but Professor John Horvath says millions of dollars spent preparing for bird flu haven't been wasted, because Australia is now ready for other disease outbreaks.
Hovarth tells 'PM' that is possible the threat of a bird flu pandemic has passed, but it remains impossible to confirm.
"There's a lot of speculation that with this much virus around, if this is the bug that was going to be the pandemic it would've been. Other people are of the view that because there is so much of it around it just hasn't had the right opportunity to change."
Retired molecular biologist, Graham Laver, believes the Australian government has failed to adequately prepare for flu threats across Australia, including pandemic bird flu.
"They have done nothing at all to do anything about it except to promote the vaccine, which is not all that effective...."
More than three thousand Australians die from seasonal flu viruses each year.

Saturday, November 11, 2006



Claims in an international scientific journal that a new bird flu variant is prevalent in China, and that it has been transmitted to neighbouring countries, have been refuted by Chinese scientists.

The paper, "Emergence and predominance of an H5N1 influenza variant in China," claimed that a previously unidentified H5N1 variant, called H5N1 Fujian-like strain, was found in almost all poultry outbreaks; and caused recent human infections in southern China.

The study, by US and Hong Kong researchers, also claimed that the new strain of the virus has resulted in an outbreak in Southeast Asia.

"I have read the article and found its viewpoints and conclusion on the 'Fujian-like variant' lack scientific evidence," Director of the National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory Chen Hualan said.

"The so-called 'Fujian-like variant' is by no means a new variant. It is highly homogeneous to the H5N1 subtype virus isolated in Hunan and other provinces during a bird flu outbreak in early 2004," she told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

The Ministry of Agriculture isolated only one new mutated virus strain of avian influenza during a surveillance campaign earlier this year in Shanxi Province and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northern China, but no new virus was discovered in southern China, she said.

From :
Indonesia, which has the highest number of human bird flu infections and fatalities, was unlikely to be hit by a pandemic of the disease in the immediate future, an official has said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said the fatality rate for confirmed cases remained largely unchanged at about 75 percent, due to late treatment following late diagnosis, and limited health facilities.

Efforts to curb the spread of the disease have been hampered by the reluctance of some poultry owners, especially backyard farmers, to hand over their sick or potentially infected birds for slaughter.

Krisnamurthi also said Indonesia was continuously preparing in case a pandemic did occur.

"We also have to be honest, that we are not yet trained to handle problems at that scale," he said, adding that he hoped continuous exercises and practice could help prepare the government for any pandemic.