Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Australian Company Claims Vaccine For Bird Flu Will Be "Ready In Weeks"

A report here that is a little light on the details, but makes the broad claim that Australian drug company, CSL, has developed a new vaccine that will "prevent deaths from bird flu."

CSL makes the claim after examining data from recent clinical trials.

The vaccine is said to be "safe" and "well tolerated" in adults under the age of 65.

No mention is made of its presumed effectiveness in children and teenagers, who appear to be in the upper rankings of those most vulnerable to death from H5N1 infections.

Neither is there any explanation for how the vaccine will be effective in a virus that has not yet finished mutating, nor mutated into a form that may be readily passed between humans.

You can create a vaccine for a form of avian influenza that killed a cluster of family members in Indonesia. But there is no guarantee that the exact same form of the virus will be responsible for deaths once the H5N1 virus has mixed with a human flu virus (or another animal flu virus) to form the easily transmissable version that could begin a human pandemic.

But this claim is the mightiest one of all :

The company says the vaccine can prevent both humans and animals from dying of bird flu.

That certainly sounds like something new, and we may well see that the vaccine will get far greater use, to begin with, in Australian poultry farms.

From ABC News Australia :

CSL will ask the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) next month to check the drug's safety, before registering it on the Australian market.

CSL chief scientific officer Dr Andrew Cuthbertson says the vaccine is an important breakthrough.

"If called upon by our Federal Government, CSL can respond here in Australia with a vaccine that I believe should be safe and should produce the type of immune responses that will underpin protection in the event of a pandemic," he said.

Health Minister Tony Abbott says it is a welcome advance in the fight against bird flu.

"...we have funded CSL to bring their vaccine to this stage and I'm very pleased to learn that they have a vaccine that they can now take to the TGA for registration."

Mr Abbott says the vaccine would become a big part of the Government's bird flu plan.

"There are continuing reports of significant human cases in Indonesia and if the TGA does register this vaccine that obviously will give us an important new weapon in the fight against bird flu if it ever does emerge," he said.

The TGA says it has agreed to begin processing CSL's application based on preliminary test results to try to speed up the assessment process.

Normally an application can only be processed once all documentation has been received, but CSL has committed to providing further information as it becomes available.

The TGA has agreed to the rolling review process, saying it recognises the potential importance of a pandemic vaccine.

The fast-tracking of any vaccine is cause enough for concern. There simply isn't enough information yet to determine whether or not the CSL claims are credible.

But, of course, it will be good news if these claims are proven to be true.

Australia's health minister Tony Abbott claims that the fast-tracking of the CSL application by the TGA is not due to any increased threat of a human pandemic, though there is reason enough to presume that Mr Abbott is very concerned with the problems facing Indonesia at the moment in battling the spread of the virus amongst poultry, and now dogs and cats.

Australian Researchers To Begin Major Flu Testing Program On Migratory Birds
Bird Flu Virus Already Mutating, Closed Door Conference Told

From Reuters :

The deadly H5N1 form of the bird flu virus is rapidly mutating and the world must be on guard even though the disease has yet to be transmitted between humans, experts told a meeting in Beijing, Chinese media said on Tuesday.

"The experts said that despite there being no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission of bird flu, the highly pathogenic H5N1 form of the virus is continuing to rapidly mutate, and human infections keep happening," the Health News reported.

The closed door conference, attended by experts from the Chinese and U.S. centres for disease control and the World Health Organisation among others, opened on Monday, the official newspaper of the Chinese Health Ministry reported.

The report provided no other details, except that the meeting will discuss bird flu vaccines.

The H5N1 virus remains mainly a virus of birds, but experts fear it could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person and sweep the world, killing millions within weeks or months.

So far, most human cases can be traced to direct or indirect contact with infected birds. China has not reported a poultry outbreak since Sept. 20 last year, though earlier this month the health ministry confirmed a man in the eastern province of Anhui had contracted bird flu but subsequently recovered.

Go Here To Read The Full Story
Bird Flu Virus Reportedly Spreading Through Dogs And Cats In Indonesia

Virus Present In 20% Of Stray Cats Near Poultry Markets

That avian influenza can infect, and possibly be spread, by cats has been reported as a possibility for three years. The story below details the first comprehensive reports that confirm feline infection by H5N1 has now been confirmed.

Though there is no proof, as yet, that cats can pass the virus onto humans, although there has been much talk of quarantining cats in areas where avian influenza has been discovered in poultry and wild birds.

Indonesia is considering a mass cull of feral cats in cities like Indonesia, but it is likely, unofficially, that such a cull has already begun, along with mass culls of poultry birds.

From Reuters :
The discovery of Avian influenza in cats and dogs has heightened concerns about a virus that experts had thought was basically infecting chickens, ducks and other fowl.

Health experts have called for closer monitoring of the H5N1 virus in domestic animals after Indonesian scientists detected it in stray cats near poultry markets in some parts of the country.

They worry that if the virus adapts to mammals it could more easily spread among people.

A survey by Chairul Anwar Nidom, a scientist at Airlangga University in Surabaya, found H5N1 antibodies in 20 percent of 500 stray cats near poultry markets in four areas in Java, including Jakarta, and one area in Sumatra where there had been recent human H5N1 cases or outbreaks of the disease in poultry.

The survey said the findings suggested the cats had probably been infected because they ate infected poultry.

In another case, Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, a virologist at Udayana University, surveyed pigs and domestic animals in Bali between September and December last year and found the virus in two dogs and a cat.

Although the cases in cats and dogs are not widespread, scientists are concerned. Lo Winglok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong, said it's bad news whenever the H5N1 jumps species.

"With more species of mammals infected, that could be a sign that the virus is mutating to adapt to mammalian hosts. If they are adapting to mammals, they could be on the way to adapting to humans, to become a human virus," Lo warned.

Musni Suatmodjo, Indonesia's animal health director, said there had been reports about the virus in cats and pigs in Indonesia, but had no details.

"Informally, there's information that bird flu infection in cats was found in Bandung and Bali. We also found another case in pigs in Yogyakarta," he told Reuters.

Go Here For The Full Story

Sunday, January 28, 2007

To Fight The Spread Of Bird Flu, Indonesia Calls In The Army

Archipelago Remains "On Highest Alert"

Even Pet Birds Will Be Confiscated And Destroyed In Massive Indonesian Bird Cull

Indonesia remains the world's 'hot spot' for human infections of the H5N1 virus. The archipelago in under increasing pressure from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation to to stick to the agreed, and extremely wide, parameters of the current mass bird culls.

The program of pet bird registrations may prove very difficult to enforce. What happens when families claim that chicken or fowls roaming loose in yards are actually children's' pets?

The removal of poultry birds from the yards of family homes will signal something of a titanic cultural shift for many Indonesians. More than 30 million families are now believed to keep poultry birds in the yards of their homes, or running loose in surrounding farms and neighbourhoods. Millions more exotic birds are kept as pets, where great pride is taken by their owners in the quality and uniqueness of their 'songs'.

That the Indonesian government has now brought in the army to help with the mass bird culls signals the enormity of the problems facing Indonesia in its battle against the spread of bird flu, and reveals the levels of aggression already faced by inspectors who try to remove possibly infected, or exposed, poultry birds from people who simply do not believe the bird flu virus is real, or real enough to be a threat worthy of giving up a vital part of their food supply.

From the Washington Post (excerpts) :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird lovers in Jakarta have been scrambling to get certificates declaring their birds are healthy. Without it, their pets will be confiscated and destroyed.

Among those trying for the life-saving certificates is Sutan Zahar, whose prized parrot welcomes visitors with the traditional Muslim greeting of "Salam-u-alaykum," Arabic for "Peace be with you.

"People have offered big money for my birds but I refused to sell them. They are precious," Zahar told Reuters as he bought food for his pets at Pramuka bird market in East Jakarta.

Millions Of Exotic Birds Kept As Pets In Indonesia - Registration Certificates Refused For Birds Kept In Dirty Cages, Unclean Conditions

Buy More Tamiflu

US Senate Told Americans Are Ignorant Of Bird Flu Threat

The threat of a bird flu pandemic breaking out amongst human populations has been very, very good for the makers and distributors of Tamiflu, a drug widely popularised as being an effective treatment for stopping the virus from overwhelming the sick once infected with H5N1.

Literally, billions of dollars worth of orders for Tamiflu stockpiles were placed after a brief panic over a bird flu pandemic swept most of the world in late 2005 and early 2006. Australia alone placed orders said to be worth close to $400 million.

But sales for Tamiflu are dropping off, and the threat of a bird flu pandemic remain as realistic as they were two years ago.

The US Senate is now being warned that Americans are ignorant about the threat of bird flu, and the need for hospitals and health centres to stockpile more anti-virals. Like Tamiflu.

From Reuters :

Bird flu poses as big a threat to the world as ever, and people need to worry about it more, U.S. senators and health leaders agreed on Wednesday.

Gerberding said a delay in passing 2007 spending bills has hurt efforts to prepare. Congress is currently funding the agencies through what are known as continuing resolutions, not permanent budget commitments.

The H5N1 avian flu virus could cause a human pandemic at any time, killing perhaps millions, yet preparations are slow, they told a Senate hearing.

"I am concerned that there is not as much public awareness or concern today as there was a year ago," Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter told the hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on health.

"You don't want to unduly alarm people. (But) I think people are unconcerned."

"People who fail to prepare for a flu pandemic are going to be tragically mistaken," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the hearing.

"It is inevitable," she added. "I don't know when and I don't know which virus will be the culprit."

"It's moving biologically," Gerberding said. "It's mutating and evolving."

Health experts want more people to get seasonal influenza vaccines, both to protect themselves and encourage more companies to make flu vaccine. Roche and Co.

ROG.VX, which makes the flu drug Tamiflu, said on Wednesday only 29 U.S. states had ordered Tamiflu so far and few had ordered their full allocation.

But the company said it had sold the drug to more than 300 companies and increased its global production capacity for Tamiflu 10-fold to 400 million treatment courses annually

How many other American products can be claimed to have seen a ten-fold rise in production in the past two years?

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Storm Of Bird Flu Outbreaks Around The World

The EU reports its first outbreak of bird flu for the year, in Hungary.

A six year old girl has died from avian influenza in Java, Indonesia. Her neighbours reportedly had dead chickens in their yard.

Five people suspected of being infected with the bird flu virus have now been isolated in a hospital in South Sulawese province.

In the Phillipines, the government has issued a "nationwide" bird flu alert.

In Nigeria, bird flu has resurfaced in Kano, the scene of previous outbreaks and mass poultry cullings. There are now plans to cull more than 750,000 birds across Nigeria.

An outbreak of bird flu has been reported in Japan, after hundreds of chickens died at a poultry farm. Tens of thousands of poultry birds are expected to be culled.

In Thailand, 2000 bird suspected of being infected with bird flu have been culled. In less than two weeks, two outbreaks of the virus at poultry farms have been reported.

Millions of fowl were culled in Vietnam in 2004 to stop the virus spreading. And the program was deemed to be a success by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. But now the virus has returned to Vietnam, and its spreading.

In South Korea, five outbreaks of the virus have been reported 100km from the capital Seoul. More than 275,000 poultry birds are set to be culled. More than 6000 pigs will also be culled.

In Japan, the US Military have expressed "concern" about new outbreaks of H5N1 which lead to the deaths and culling of more than 12,000 birds.

In the official US Military paper, 'Stars And Stripes', a senior medical officer for the military has issued a set of guidelines to American soldiers serving in Japan on how to avoid becoming infected.

The virus has been found to have mutated in Egypt.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Resurrecting The Most Deadly Virus In Human History

To Stop It From Killing Tens Of Millions Again

"The Immune Response Is Contributing To The Lethality Of The Virus"

Another report on the ressurection of the 1918 'Spanish Flu' virus, and how experiments on infecting monkeys with the 'reborn' H1N1 virus have revealed the truth lethality of the flu that killed 40 to 60 million people in 1918-1919.

Basically, the researchers now assume that the way the monkeys were consumed by the virus is pretty close to how humans succumbed to it.

The first signs of infection appear within 24 hours of exposure, the immune system goes into overdrive to fight the virus, but end up filling the lungs with blood and fluid. On top of all the other terrible ways the H1N1 destroys the human body, the victim ends up, literally, drowning on their own blood.

The mainstream media has been unusually quiet on the results of the 'Spanish Flu Ressurection' experiments, even though the actual discovery of a frozen victim of the 1918-19 pandemic recieved enormous global media coverage, as did the early days of the research to recreate the original virus from tissue cultures drawn from the frozen corpse.

Perhaps the reality of how tens or hundreds of millions of people will die should the current H5N1 virus mutate into a pandemic flu strain is just far too gruesome.

From Madison.com (excerpts) :
The deadly 1918 flu virus harms monkeys the same way today's bird flu strikes some people, says a new study led by a UW-Madison researcher.

Both viruses inflict an unusual immune response that kills instead of protects, the study found.

The discovery could encourage doctors to treat bird flu with immune-suppressing drugs such as steroids in addition to the antiviral medications now used, said Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a UW-Madison virologist and lead author of the study.

In the study, published in today's issue of the journal Nature, scientists infected cynomolgus macaque monkeys with the 1918 virus. The monkeys virtually drowned in their own inflammatory fluid that poured into their lungs, as many people reportedly did during the 1918 pandemic.

The finding could quicken officials' response to a new pandemic by enabling doctors to treat an immune reaction along with the flu itself, Kawaoka said.

"We may be able to reduce the symptoms by coping with that immune response," he said.

Kawaoka worked on the study with researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The monkeys were infected in a tightly-controlled part of the Canadian lab. It is designated biosafety level 4, or BSL- 4, meaning it is equipped to handle the most dangerous germs.

Ten monkeys were infected with the 1918 virus. Three were given a routine flu virus from 2001.

The monkeys that received the routine flu had strong immune reactions that subsided as the monkeys recovered from the infection.

The immune reactions in the monkeys that got the 1918 virus were weaker initially - but failed to go away. As the virus continued to grow in their bodies, their immune systems unleashed "profuse watery and bloody liquid" into their lungs, causing deadly disease, the researchers reported.

"The immune response is actually contributing to the lethality of the virus," said co-author Michael Katze, a University of Washington microbiologist.

Drowning On Your Own Blood

Recreating The 1918 Bird Flu Virus That Killed 60 Million People Reveals Ways To Fight Our Future Pandemic

After numerous books and movies, and television shows, depicting the aftermath of a letahl virus escaping from a bioresearch lab, it must be near impossible for scientists and researchers to to not think about, and perhaps joke about, how they would feel if the lehal virus they were working on somehow escaped from their lab.

I don't mean to be flippant about the importance of such research, or killer viruses, but many of these researchers and scientists must have read some of the fiction, such as Stephen King's 'The Stand' and watched some of the movies that depict such scenarios, if only to debunk them.

"Look at that. We'd never do that in our lab. Did they actually have someone who knows what they're doing to advise on making that lab scene authentic?"

I only raise this because it was exactly the first thing that crossed my mind when I read the following stories, excerpted below.

Because the researchers in the story aren't just working on any one of the numerous lethal viruses and baterium that fill research labs around the world today.

They had recreated The Big One. .The 1918-1919 Bird Flu pandemic virus, otherwise known as Spanish Flu, which killed 40 to 60 million people around the world in less than nine months.

Consider that World War 1 lasted for four years, had battles where 20,000 men died in one morning, and less people died during that War then died the year after it was over.

What these researchers witnessed must have chilled them to the bone. The full fury of human history's most lethal virus, and it was under their control.

So just how tight is that lab security anyway?

From the BBC :

Scientists who recreated "Spanish flu" - the 1918 virus which killed up to 50m people - have witnessed its remarkable killing power first hand.

The lungs of infected monkeys were destroyed in just days as their immune systems went into overdrive after a Canadian laboratory rebuilt the virus.

...the results were startling. Symptoms appeared within 24 hours of exposure to the virus, and the subsequent destruction of lung tissue was so widespread that, had the monkeys not been killed a few days later, they would literally have drowned in their own blood.

The results match those seen when mice were infected in an earlier study and are very similar to those described in human patients at the time the virus was at its height.

Darwyn Kobasa, a research scientist with the Public Health Agency of Canada, and lead author of the research, defended the decision to recreate one of the most dangerous viruses in history.

He said: "This research provides an important piece in the puzzle of the 1918 virus, helping us to better understand influenza viruses and their potential to cause pandemics."

However, it is not the virus that is directly causing the damage to the lungs - it is the body's own response to infection.

Immune system proteins that can damage infected tissue were found at much higher levels following H1N1 infection compared with other viral infections.

Analysis at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW) revealed that a key component of the immune system, a gene called RIG-1 appeared to be involved.

Levels of the protein produced by the gene were lower in tissue infected with the 1918 virus, suggesting it had a method of switching it off, causing immune defences to run wild.

This ability to alter the body's immune response is shared with the most recent candidate for mutation into a pandemic strain, the H5N1 avian flu.

Experts are worried that if the virus changes so that it can infect humans easily, it could again be far more lethal than normal seasonal flu.

Dr Ronald Cutler, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of East London, said: "Knowing how that over stimulation takes place could lead to the development of new methods to treat these diseases so we are better prepared for any future pandemic."

Indonesia Prepares For Mass Poultry, Bird Cull To Halt Spread Of H5N1 Virus

Live Birds Seen Flying Out Of Poultry Bonfires

Indonesia is not, officially, suffering from a bird flu pandemic in its poultry, but few now argue against the fact that an epidemic of the virus is raging across dozens of towns and villages, on numerous islands in the archipelago.

Indonesia's attempts to halt the spread of avian influenza has failed simply because poultry is such a vital part of Indonesians daily diet, and because many Indonesians keep poultry in their yards, running loose.

At least 30 million Indonesians households are reported to have at least one poultry bird in their yard, or more rarely, in a pen or a box.

They don't need to be fed, unless the trees in the yards, or the grass, are bare and produce nothing from which the poultry can forage.

And then there is the fact that Indonesia is a huge archipelago of hundreds of islands.

When families travel from one island to another on ferries or small boats for feasts and celebrations, many bring poultry birds with them. This practice alone helps to spread the virus amongst poultry birds.

But Indonesian is caving in to World Health Organisation and United Nations pressure to ramp up their poultry culling programs.

It's going to be an enormous task, and the cullers sent out to destroy poultry stocks in areas of past outbreaks have met aggressive resistance from the locals, who see no reason why their food supply should be destroyed.

There is a program of compensation payments for the poultry birds destroyed, but it is almost impossible to keep free from corruption, and there is enormous confusion.

A villager may get $1.70 for a chicken they hand over, but the are not compensated for the eggs the chicken would have produced in the year or to ahead. Nor are they compensated for the offspring this chicken would have likely produced.

To many rural Indonesians, this single payment for only the one poultry bird they hand over leaves them feeling cheated.

Indonesia has already invested tens of millions of dollars in advertising and awareness campaigns to inform the widely spread population not only of the dangers of avian influenza, but also that they soon unlikely to be allowed to keep poultry in the yards of their homes.

The Indonesia government also has to counter the deeply grounded belief that there is no such thing as avian influenza, and the talk of 'bird flu' is just a way of making them go to shops and supermarkets to buy chicken and eggs.

Nevertheless, Indonesia is now set to begin the biggest poultry and bird cull they've yet attempted.

And there is no guarantee that this venture will stop the avian influenza virus from spreading.

But Indonesia has no choice. If they are to keep on recieving WHO and UN funding for programs to tackle bird flu, they have to follow the mandated rules.

And the chief rule is : cull poultry and stop people from living amongst poultry birds.

From ABC's AM :
The World Health Organisation has labelled Indonesia's bird flu epidemic uncontrollable.

Bird flu has already killed five people in Indonesia this year. Now the country is about to embark on an unprecedented campaign of mass culling.

In Jakarta next week residents will be forced to hand over their backyard poultry...

Enforcing Jakarta's new ban on backyard birds is a messy and often confusing business.

Door to door go local officials, yanking birds from their cages with varying degrees of compliance from their owners.

Almost 1.5 million chickens, ducks, pigeons and other birds live with or alongside people in the Indonesian capital.

Until next Thursday, the bird-owners have been asked to comply with the ban voluntarily...

Tens of thousands of birds are sometimes being gathered at public events where people come and to eat free, safely cooked chicken, while officials give speeches and light bonfires of slaughtered poultry, all the name of spreading awareness of avian influenza.

Edi Santoso is South Jakarta's Head of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries :
Yeah, we hope that people voluntarily give up their birds and give it to us so next time we don't have birds in the neighbourhood.
It can be a haphazard and brutal display. Their throats slit, the birds are often still flapping as they are thrown into pits. Some even fly out on fire, and others escape altogether.

As the above report stated, the culling program is now unfolding under voluntary guidelines. The enforcement of the cull, where Indonesian police or Army go house to house to kill every poultry bird they find, will face even greater resistance, and aggression.

The psychological impact of these collection and culling programs is yet to be assessed. But it is likely to show high levels of resentment and dysfunction.

The WHO and the UN are basically asking Indonesians to change in the most fundamnetal ways a vital and important part of their culture : the keeping, raising and eating of their own poultry.

Monday, January 22, 2007

US Under Bird Flu Pandemic : 2 Million Dead, Quarantines, Mass Chaos

Whe House Predicts Pandemic Would "Ravage" The United States

The White House has been coy in directly spelling out what will befall the average American citizen if, or when, a bird flu pandemic breaks out amongst the human population.

They've usually left the spreading of the bad news to any number of government agencies of NGOs.

But now the White House is issuing stark, direct warnings, and it appears that a whole host of new laws introduced to fight terrorism, and to deal with panic and chaos following a major terrorist attack, will now be used to contain the American population once a pandemic begins.

Quote of the article : "...deal a war-like blow to the country's economy and social fabric."

That's a incredibly big claim.

But clearly, this is not only what the White House believes, but what they are now preparing for.

From Media Syndicate :

A government report says an outbreak could kill 2 million people and lead to quarantines, travel restrictions and an economic downturn.

The White House on Wednesday unveiled a foreboding report on the nation's lack of preparedness for a bird flu pandemic, warning that such an outbreak could kill as many as 2 million people and deal a war-like blow to the country's economic and social fabric. It urged state and local governments to make their own preparations beyond the federal efforts.

In the government's first detailed look at the potential effects on public health and U.S. society as a whole, the report said a full-blown pandemic could lead to travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines, massive absenteeism, an economic slowdown "and civil disturbances and breakdowns in public order."

It warned that the healthcare system - including doctors, nurses and suppliers of pharmaceuticals - was inadequate to meet the country's needs in a flu pandemic. "In the event of multiple simultaneous outbreaks, there may be insufficient medical resources or personnel to augment local capabilities," the report warned.

More broadly, state, local and tribal governments should "anticipate that all sources of external aid may be compromised during a pandemic," it said, meaning that "local communities will have to address the medical and non-medical effects of the pandemic with available resources."

While warning that as a last resort, mandatory travel restrictions may be necessary, such limits alone "are unlikely to reduce the total number of people who become ill or the impact the pandemic will have on any one community."

The document includes the White House Homeland Security Council's plan to implement a national strategy in the face of a flu pandemic, for which Congress appropriated $3.8 billion in December.

The strategy is built around three elements: preparation, surveillance and detection, and containment. And the report listed more than 300 steps that it said the administration would take, had already begun to take, or would recommend that state and local governments pursue.


Looking at specific demands that a pandemic would impose on the nation, the report said that workplace absenteeism could reach 40%.

To illustrate what the effect of such high levels of absenteeism could mean, Osterholm said that the oil industry had reported in one preparedness seminar that its refineries could not function if 30% of workers were absent - a figure suggesting that a pandemic could have a domino effect across the economy.

The First Signs Of A Worldwide Bird Flu Pandemic?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Strain Of Bird Flu In Egypt Shows Strong Resistance To Anti-Viral Drug

The world's chief weapon in the fight against human bird flu infections may be just as good a useless.

This new comes after countries around the world, including some of the poorest, spent billions stocking up and commiing to massive orders of the anti-viral Tamiflu.

Two words : Oh, shit.

Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld infamously made more than $5 million from his investments in the one the US-based companies that developed the anti-viral.

From the New York Times :

A strian of avian flu that is resistant to the antiviral drug oseltamivir has been isolated from two family members in Egypt, the World Health Organization said yesterday.

The development is potentially dangerous because oseltamivir, commonly sold under the name Tamiflu, is the chief weapon against the flu strain, H5N1, which many worry could mutate into a strain that could set off a worldwide pandemic.

The health organization emphasized that it was too early to tell whether the resistant strain had developed independently in the two patients, who were both under treatment with the drug, or whether they had picked it up from birds or from each other. The resistant strain did not spread to anyone else, including a third family member who also had avian flu.

Mr. Thompson was unsure which Egyptian cluster of flu infections the patients were part of. But another source said it was one in Gharbiya Province, roughly 50 miles north of Cairo, in which flu killed three people last month in a 33-member family living in one compound.

Go Here For The Full Story

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bird Flu Virus In Japan 'Highly Virulent'

A strain of the virus described as "highly virulent" that has a 100% mortality rate in a test is extremely bad news. Obviously.

From Reuters :
A biological test showed an outbreak of bird flu at a poultry farm in southwestern Japan last week was due to a highly virulent type within the H5N1 strain of the virus, a farm ministry official said on Thursday.

...a biological test under the guidelines of the World Organisation for Animal Health was required to determine how highly poisonous the virus was, as not all types of the H5N1 strain are equally virulent, the ministry official said.

In the test, eight birds were injected on Tuesday with the virus taken from dead birds at the farm, and by Thursday all eight had died, confirming that it was highly virulent.

Almost 4,000 birds died from the disease at the affected farm, and authorities killed the farm's remaining 8,000 chickens on Sunday

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

China, Indonesia, Vietnam Claim Bird Flu Vaccine Breakthroughs

Three reports from China's Peoples' Daily Online covering advances in the search for a vaccine that will protect the majority of people from the H5N1 strain of bird flu viruses.

Vaccine News From China :

A new recombinant H5N1 vaccine virus has been developed in China and is available for researchers and companies that want to develop or produce the H5N1 vaccine for human use, an official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Researchers found that a newly isolated virus collected from people infected with H5N1 in southern China was distinguishable in terms of antigen from the viruses that had previously been selected for vaccine development...

The World Health Organization (WHO) has put the new development on its Web site and said it's available for "institutions, companies and others interested in pandemic vaccine development."

Vaccine News From Indonesia :
An Indonesian official said that Indonesia is ready to develop a homegrown vaccine for the avian influenza virus, the English daily The Jakarta Post reported on Tuesday.

"The government would first improve the expertise of local scientists before they started working on the vaccine," Amin Soebandrio, chairman of the National Commission for Avian Influenza, was quoted as saying.

"Along with Vietnam, we have two types of antitoxin for producing the vaccine. So it is illogical to continue to import them..."

The Indonesia government has earlier agreed to purchase 91 million dosages of bird flu vaccine from China.

Vaccine news from Vietnam :

Vietnamese scientists have successfully decoded genes of bird flu virus strain H5N1, paving the way for production of vaccines used among humans, local media reported Monday.

The Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute has decoded genes of 24 samples of the viruses which killed fowls and people in Vietnam's southern region in the 2004-2005 period, said Youth newspaper.

The decoding shows that there have been some changes in the genes. Based on the decoding, the institute in southern Ho Chi Minh City is facilitating the production of H5N1 vaccines to be used among humans.

In November, Vietnam's Nha Trang Institute of Vaccines and Biological Products in central Khanh Hoa province announced it has successfully turned out 5,000 doses of H5N1 vaccine for humans in labs, which have yielded good results after being tested on white mice, guinea-pigs and cockerels. The institute will produce another 5,000 doses of the vaccine in early 2007 for tests at international verification centers.

Bird Flu Hits Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand - More Deaths In Indonesia

Googling the words "bird flu" through Google News sometimes only pulls up a few stories about how various countries, and cities, are working through pandemic preparedness programs, or you find ten variations on a new warning from the World Health Organisation that a worldwide pandemic could kill 60 million, 100 million or 200 million.

But some days, like today, the computer screen jolts you like an electric shock. A storm of new outbreaks, more deaths, more dire warnings unfold in front of your eyes. It's not if, but when the pandemic hits, the experts say, and you wonder, again, is the week it begins?

Will this be the week in which historians, those who survive anyway, will look back and say, "That was the week we learned there was no turning it back. The pandemic had begun."

It's an alarming list of news stories that doesn't bode well for 2007 :

Indonesia : Mother, Son Die Within Days Of Each Other - Reality Of New Virus Clusters Come Into Focus

China Urges Unity Across Asia To Fight Spread Of Avian Influenza

4000 Chickens Died Last Week Of H5N1 Infection In Japan's Largest Poultry Growing Region

Ducks, Pigeons Die Suddenly From Bird Flu As Virus Hits Thailand

Indonesia Set To Ban Backyard Poultry In Renewed Fight Against Spread Of Bird Flu

Vietnam : Bird Flu Virus Discovered In Four Provinces In Past Ten Days

Indonesia : Four Dead From Bird Flu Virus This Year, Hospitals Prepare For More Human Outbreaks

Reports Of Bird Flu Outbreaks Spreading Across Asia

Bird Flu Pandemica Poses Grave Threats To Global Markets - Impacts Predicted To Be Worse Than Terror Attacks

Bird Flu Speads In Asia, Jump Seen In Indonesian Cases
How A Bird Flu Pandemic Will Cripple The Banks Of England

Cash Chaos Predicted

This is an example of the fallout from a pandemic that few contemplate, but are obviously being taken extremely seriously by the financial institutions concerned.

You can shut down city centres, office blocks, theatres and schools, and people can confine themselves to their homes, or yards, during a pandemic outbreak to limit exposure to the virus, but if you can't get cash from your bank, and financial institutions are unable to process electronic transactions, then how will people get food to eat? Medicine?

From the UK Independent (excerpts) :

Thousands of people could be left literally penniless in the event of a flu pandemic as staff absences lead to a partial breakdown of Britain's cash distribution system, a report by Britain's financial watchdogs has warned.

The report follows a test of how Britain's financial system would cope in the event of an influenza pandemic, held by the Financial Services Authority, the Bank of England and the Treasury. The test, which ran for the six weeks between October 13 and November 24, warned absence rates at financial companies could top 60 per cent in some business units at the outbreak's worst point.

This would lead to bank branch closures and empty cash machines. The tripartite report also warned that some banks would not be able to replace expired cards - potentially leaving people with no access to money.

The report said: "Across the financial sector the heaviest impact of the (simulated) pandemic was upon the more labour-intensive parts, notably the provision of customer-facing retail financial services."

It warned of "bottlenecks" restricting the distribution of cash in some areas and said: "Growing staff shortages forced the high-street banks to close an increasing number of branches, which reduced the availability of retail banking services to the public, including ATMs."

On the issue of cards, the study said: "In relation to the use of debit and credit cards, some participants were able to extend expiry dates as a workaround to solve the difficulty of issuing new cards due to postal delays, but not all were able to do that." That could potentially leave some people without any access to money.

The regulators also raised fears over whether Britain's telecommunications system would be able to cope with large numbers of people working from home.

Saturday, January 06, 2007



The spread of avian influenza around the world has not gone quiet. But the media coverage has.

The new chief of the World Health Organisation has used one of her first speeches to warn that bird flu remains today one of the greatest threats facing the world.

From the BBC :

Margaret Chan, a bird flu expert from Hong Kong, is the first Chinese citizen to become the head of a UN agency.

She said reports of bird flu had started to surface in recent weeks after a lull and that the danger was particularly severe in poor countries.

Dr Chan said the number of bird flu cases had been increasing in recent weeks.

The WHO is particularly concerned about an outbreak on a poultry farm in Vietnam, the first in that country in almost a year.

Dr Chan pledged to take a hard line on countries that do not comply with requirements to carry out checks against bird flu or hinder global efforts to develop vaccines.

Her Chinese origin, she said, would help her in any dealing with the authorities in China, the country where the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu first emerged.

"I think of all people I would be in a better position to work with the Chinese government," she told the BBC.

Dr Chan also warned of the danger of a new flu pandemic, particularly if it took hold in countries with poor healthcare, where people were already affected by diseases such as HIV/Aids.

"The next pandemic, if it occurs, will be very devastating... we are very concerned of the likelihood of a pandemic," she said.

Africa is struggling under the burden of Aids, conflict and poverty and a flu pandemic in such conditions would be catastrophic, the BBC's Geneva correspondent Imogen Foulkes says.