Thursday, May 31, 2007

Vietnam On The Brink Of New Bird Flu Epidemic

Vietnam's minister for agriculture has announced the country is on the brink of another bird flu epidemic.

The H5N1 virus has been found in chickens and ducks in 11 provinces. Experts find the outbreaks of the virus near the start of summer to be unusual. The virus is normally known to survive and thrive when temperatures are cooler. Warmer weather tends to weaken the virus' strength and ability to spread, and kill.

From Reuters :
Last week, the Southeast Asian country reported its first human case of H5N1 bird flu virus infection in a year and a half, a 30-year-old man in a province neighbouring Hanoi.

"The recent outbreaks were found mainly in waterflowl flocks that have not been vaccinated," Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat said in what was described as an urgent telegraph to People's Committees in all 64 provinces and cities.

"Now the development of the epidemic is very complicated. The risk of the epidemic's further development and spreading on a large scale is very high," Phat's message said.

It called for the vaccination of "100 percent of ducks".
Vietnam won praise from the World Health Organisation in 2004 and 2005 for taking "drastic steps" to halt he spread of the virus. Widespread poultry vacinnations were rolled out across the country and live birds were banned from sale in markets, a move that caused great consternation, but helped to halt the spread of H5N1.

In early 2006, after millions of birds were culled, or died from the virus, and it had claimed the lives of 42 people, the World Health Organisation announced that Vietnam was bird-flu free, and its fast-response emergency programs were hailed as a world standard on fighting the virus.

H5N1 "flared up repeatedly" earlier this year, mostly in rural areas.
The number of birds killed by the virus and slaughtered this month is more than 50,000 nationwide. The full economic impact might not be known for some months until the government compensates farmers for slaughtering their poultry, a World Bank economist said.

"The consequences will be much stronger in the winter," said Martin Rama, acting director of the World Bank in Vietnam.

Bird Flu Spreads In Indonesia As Vigilance Wanes
Indonesia Announces 78th Death From H5N1 Virus

The latest confirmed Indonesian victim of the H5n1 virus is a 45 year old man, one of the oldest persons to have died from the virus so far. The vast majority of the more than 180 deaths around the world have claimed the lives of people younger than 30, with dozens of victims being less than eight years old :
A 45-year-old man has died from bird flu in Indonesia, taking the death toll in the nation worst hit by the virus to 78, a health ministry official said Thursday.

The man died on Monday at the general hospital in the city of Solo on the country’s main island of Java, said Wibisono from the ministry’s bird flu information centre.

The victim had fallen ill after the chickens he was raising at his home in a town in Central Java had also become sick and started dying, said Wibisono. Contact with infected birds is the most common form of transmission of the deadly virus to humans, experts say.

“The man, from Grobogan, has a history of contact with infected fowl,” Wibisono said. “His death now brings the number of confirmed human bird flu infection cases to 98, with 78 of them fatal,” he said.

The death also follows Indonesia’s decision this month to resume sending virus samples to a WHO laboratory in Tokyo, ending a five-month freeze. Indonesia halted the sharing of samples last December because of fears that multinational drug companies would use them to develop costly vaccines that would be unaffordable for those in poorer countries. Indonesia agreed at the WHO’s annual assembly in Geneva to resume sending samples, but stressed that the global flu surveillance system needed to be changed to ensure developing countries got a fair deal.

Sample sharing is regarded as an essential component for research on new vaccines.

Is This A Possible Cure? Blood From H5N1 Produces Antibodies That Kill The Virus In Mice

Clinical Trial Of Vaccine To Be Tested On Indonesians

Bird Flu Spreads To 12 Indonesian Localities

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bird Flu Virus Spreads Through School, Hospitals In Wales

Dozens Sick, More Than 140 Suspected Of Being Ill

Despite their best efforts to play down the dangers of H7N2 virus now spreading between people in Wales, real panic is starting to set in, as the number of people suspected of being infected, or exposed to this "milder form of bird flu" has risen to more than 140.

Consider that on the morning of May 27, only two people were known to be infected, after the virus was discovered in North Wales :
A dozen children aged nine and 10 and two teachers at the school are being given tamiflu treatments as a precaution. A year five pupil at Ysgol Henllan suspected of contracting the virus has been linked to the smallholding.

Twelve people are being treated as "positive", but no-one is seriously ill. Of the 142 to come into contact with the virus, 47 came into contact "in the household setting," 14 in the school and 81 in "the workplace setting".

The British health authorities have warned on several occasions that there's no room for panic or fear.
The first outbreak occurred on May 24 at Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr, Conwy. The farm tested negative for the virus, but 45 chickens were culled.

On May 26, a second outbreak was believed to have occurred on a farm at Efailnewydd. Further tests on May 29 supposedly proved negative.

On May 29, health authorities announced that some 221 people may have had contact with the bird flu virus.

From Channel 4 :
Staff and patients at a hospital are being treated with anti-avian flu drugs after it emerged a health worker may have been infected with the virus.

Almost 80 people at Glan Clwyd hospital in North Wales have received the Tamiflu drug as a precaution.

The move comes after it was confirmed a worker at the hospital was being treated for the H7 flu virus.

Health officials are contacting a further 69 people at Gwynedd hospital after a former patient suffered symptoms.

On Monday, schoolchildren and staff at Ysgol Henllan primary school near the Corwen farm were offered courses of anti-flu drug Tamiflu after a pupil fell ill.

A total of 12 people are so far thought to have contracted the avian flu virus since it was discovered at a farm in Corwen last week.

From the BBC :

The National Public Health Service for Wales (NPHS) stressed that no-one has been seriously ill and the risk to the health of the general public is low.

The first confirmed case of the avian flu (in Wales) was confirmed last Thursday among chickens on a smallholding near Corwen in Denbighshire.

The Rhode Island chickens first affected were bought at a Chelford Market in Macclesfield, Cheshire on 7 May.

Wales' chief vet Dr Christianne Glossop said while they were very pleased with the results, they must "not be complacent so early in our investigations in the source of this outbreak".

She appealed for all bird keepers in Wales to continue being vigilant and to monitor their birds for any signs of infectious disease.

Marion Lyons, NPHS's communicable disease control consultant, said: "We have assessed the risk to others and can confirm that the healthcare worker was working at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd during the time when she may have been infectious, between 21 and 23 May.

The NPHS stressed that experience of this particular bird flu virus in humans was limited, so it was "actively managing" the response.

Dr Lyons added: "People can also be confident that, the more remote the contact with infected birds, the less likely that symptoms that we have defined would really be H7 flu".

Bird flu, of any type, is not the only virus the British have to worry about. A 'superbug' that has been all but impossible to eliminate continues to spread through British hospitals, killing an astound 4700 people in 2006 alone. While the British government spends hundreds of millions of pounds on pandemic prevention, an actual pandemic is already raging in British hospitals, killing thousands of most elderly, poor people each year.

Panic Erupts Across North Wales As Word Gets Out About Rapid Spread Of Bird Flu Virus
US Issues First Virus-Related Quarantine Order Since 1963

Super TB Outbreak Sparks CDC Into Pandemic Mode

I include this remarkable story about an outbreak of the incredibly resilient 'Super TB' virus as an example of how the US Centre For Disease Control shifts into pandemic-alert mode, and how they deal with a planeload of possibly infected people who have already dispersed back into their communities.

When the bird flu pandemic begins, you can expect the earliest days of the outbreak to be very similar to the story below about 'Super TB'. In effect, the CDC is taking a 'dry run' at how it will deal with the beginning of a bird flu pandemic through the issuing of this quarantine order :

The United States has placed in isolation a man who may have exposed fellow passengers and crew on two May trans-Atlantic flights to a tuberculosis strain that is extremely hard to treat, officials said on Tuesday.

It was first time the U.S. government has issued such an isolation order since 1963, when it took action against a smallpox patient, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The man, a U.S. citizen from the state of Georgia, is suffering from extensive drug-resistant TB, known as XDR TB, which resists virtually all antibiotics, the CDC said. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that usually attacks the lungs.

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said authorities in the United States and other countries were trying to notify passengers who traveled on Air France flight 385, arriving in Paris from Atlanta on May 13, and on Czech Air flight 0104, arriving in Montreal from Prague on May 24.

Gerberding said health authorities were aware of the man's condition before he left the United States and warned him against traveling.

"Under the circumstances, I think we were surprised that the patient had left the country," she said.

She said the man had "compelling personal reasons" to travel despite being ill. "I want to emphasize that from our perspective, no laws were broken here," Gerberding said.

The man returned to the United States by car. He voluntarily entered a medical isolation facility in New York City on Friday before being flown on a CDC plane back to Atlanta on Monday. Authorities called him "relatively asymptomatic."

Tuberculosis kills about 1.6 million people annually, with the highest number in Africa. It is spread through the air when infectious people cough, sneeze, talk or spit.

"This is an unusual TB organism, one that's very, very difficult to treat. And we want to make sure that we have done everything we possibly can to identify people who could be at risk," Gerberding told a news conference.

Dr. Kenneth Castro of the CDC's Division of Tuberculosis Elimination said that from 1993 to 2006 CDC knew of 49 people in the United States with XDR TB.

XDR TB requires 18 months to two years of treatment with a mixture of four to six drugs. The treatment can often require surgery, as well, and can cost $500,000 per patient.

The Centre For Disease Control Press Release Announcing The Quarantine Order

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bird Flu Kills 5 Year Old Girl In Indonesia, Vietnamese Man Falls Ill

A five year old girl from Central Java, Indonesia, died from the H5N1 virus 10 days ago, after contact with dead, or sick, birds.

Some 20 chickens died suddenly in her village before she became ill.

Her death takes Indonesia's official human toll to 77, from a reported 97 infections, which means H5N1 has a human mortality rate close to 80%. However, because of the vastness of the Indonesian archipelago, and the lack of quality health care and medical services across dozens of Indonesia's inhabited islands, some bird flu watchers believe the actual death and infection numbers are much higher.

Vietnam has reported its first human avian influenza infection in more than 18 months. The 30 year old man has been hospitalised in Hanoi. Initial tests have proved positive for H5N1.

The man reportedly killed chickens more than three weeks ago, for wedding celebrations, in a village some 60 kilometres from Hanoi.

Two days after slaughtering the chickens he is believed to have suffered his first symptoms - breathing difficulties and a high fever.

Vietnam was only recently praised by the World Health Organisation for its excellent campaign of widespread poultry culls and vaccination programs through 2004 and 2005, which were then believed to have eliminated the H5N1 virus from all its provinces.

Unfortunately, the virus has now returned to at least six provinces, in the north, south and central lands of the country, killing more than 2000 poultry birds and leading to the culling of tens of thousands more.

Pakistan and Ghana have both reported fresh outbreaks of H5N1 on poultry farms in the past few days.
Nigeria Report Fresh Outbreak Of H5N1

Along with Indonesia, Nigeria is often cited by the World Health Organisation as the country most likely to become the epicentre of a human H5N1 pandemic.

The latest outbreak of H5N1 in Nigeria appears to have be contained to a small number of poultry birds, and the authorities reacted swiftly, and impressively :

Health authorities reported Wednesday an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus in Nigeria's northern state of Zamfara, the official NAN news agency said.

The virus was confirmed through tests on affected birds in Namaturu village and more than 200 birds had been culled to curtail the spread of the disease, said Aminu Abdulrazak from the state health ministry.

The whole area had been disinfected and villagers had been advised to follow advice from doctors on the matter, he added.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with some 140 million people, earlier this year reported west Africa's first human bird flu death.

A 22-year-old woman died in Lagos on January 17 weeks after plucking and disembowelling a chicken.

Bird flu was first detected in Nigeria on a farm in Jaji town outside the northern city of Kano in February last year from where it spread to other parts of the country.

Kano, northern Nigeria's most populous city, was worst affected by the flu outbreak which ravaged 97 farms in the city resulting in the death or culling of at least 300,000 birds, officials said.

Three more northern states -- Katsina, Sokoto and Bauchi -- have recorded a resurgence of bird flu since it resurfaced in Kano.

China Reports Solider Infected With H5N1

China's health ministry announced yesterday that a 19 year old soldier was hospitalised on May 14, five days after he began suffering from a cough and fever. He has been confirmed to be infected with H5N1. He is still being treated for the virus.

The health ministry did not reveal where or how the soldier came to be infected :

Test results obtained by local health authorities on May 18 found the soldier had the H5N1 bird flu strain, and that was confirmed May 23 in a test performed by national authorities, the ministry said.

"The State Council (China's Cabinet) and military leaders attach great importance to this," the ministry statement said.

It said people who had close contact with the soldier were under medical observation but showed no signs of disease. It said no civilians had contact with the soldier.

China has reported two other human cases of bird flu this year, including a 16-year-old boy who died in March.

China has suffered a total of 15 human deaths and dozens of cases in its vast poultry flocks. Millions of birds have been destroyed in order to contain outbreaks on farms.

Four People In Wales Test Positive For Bird Flu

The United Kingdom has its first human bird flu infections. Four in total, who are believed to have become infected after an outbreak of the virus on a farm in North Wales.

The good news is that the virus is reportedly not the horrific H5N1 strain, but the "low pathogenic" H7N2 strain :
The HPA (Health Protection Agency) carried out tests on specimens from nine people associated with the incident - seven from Wales and two from north-west England.

Yesterday, 30 chickens were slaughtered at the smallholding in Corwen after 15 birds died.

Tests were carried out after the farm's owners contacted their own vet. A 1km restriction zone has been set up around the farm, stopping birds and bird products being moved in or out of the area. Pat Troop, chief executive of the HPA, said: "As a routine precaution, we have tested those who were associated with the infected or dead birds and reported flu-like symptoms.

"These test results confirm that human infection with the avian flu virus has occurred. The cases so far have been associated with the infected birds."
Nine people reported flu-like symptons, but only four tested positive for H7N2. Maybe I'm reading that wrong, but it seems curious that nine people would all report flu-like symptoms after coming into contact with infected poultry birds.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Don't Kiss, Keep Your Distance At Work, Don't Shake Hands And Don't Let H5N1-Friendly Children Sneeze In Your Face

US Government Guidelines Vague On Benefits Of Face Masks To Stop H5N1 Infection

Don't Call It 'Quarantine', Call It 'Social Distancing'

Illustration by Joon Mo Kang, from the New York Times

While most other countries are stockpiling vast reserves of paper and cloth face masks in anticipation of a global bird flu pandemic, new guidelines issued by the US Health Department are vague, at best, on whether such masks will actually stop people from becoming infected with the virus.

The guidelines spell out a clear agenda of preparing the state governments and local councils and authorities to get used to the idea that in the event of a pandemic, public spaces - including schools, cinemas, work places, train lines - will be shut down. If state or local councils refuse to do so, President Bush now has the authority to federalise the National Guard to shut down any place deemed to be likely to encourage the spread of the H5N1 virus through the human population.

Further down, you will find excerpts from an early 2006 New York Times article about how Americans will need to stop kissing and shaking hands, if or when the dreaded pandemic breaks out.

From the New York Times :

Part of the hesitation (about recommending face masks), officials said, is that even though common sense says masks protect against flu germs, there is little scientific data proving they do.

“If there were a fail-safe, perfect solution, we’d recommend it absolutely,” said Dr. Michael Bell, chief of infection control for the national preparedness center at the C.D.C. “But there isn’t a crisp, hard guideline. It’s not like a seat belt, something you should wear at all times.”

Also, officials fear that if millions of nervous citizens rush out to buy masks, that will create shortages for health care workers, who need them more.

“I would not like people to stockpile to the extent that they’d cut off the supply to hospital workers,” Dr. Bell said.

The guidelines released yesterday re-emphasized earlier suggestions that in a pandemic, people should shun crowds, avoid close contact with anyone at work or school, and stay home if they are sick, or anyone in their household is sick.

They should also wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizers and cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Masks are most useful, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the disease control centers, when placed on people who are already sick — to keep in droplets from their sneezes and coughs. They are also important for health care workers or family members tending anyone with flu, especially during potentially dangerous procedures like giving nebulizer treatment to an asthmatic child or suctioning a patient with a chronic breathing problem.

But, Dr. Bell said, “they do provide some protection, for example, during that unfortunate moment in the grocery store line when some little kid sneezes in your face.”

An extremely revealing comment from a Parisian on the psychological benefits of face masks :

Dr. Didier Houssin, chief medical officer for flu at the Paris Hospital Center, said at an avian flu conference in February that his country’s emphasis was “not so much from medical reasons as from psychological and political reasons.”

Political reasons? As in appearing to provide ways of stopping the pandemic spread, when the reality may be that it is very difficult to do so?

Dr. Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, makes a very good point that face masks should be made in smaller, children's sizes, as the 'seal' of the mask over the mouth and nose must be tight to be even moderately effective.

The H5n1 virus has, so far, killed no-one over the age of 40 years old, with children under 10 being particularly vulnerable. At least as far as the reported deaths and infections so far would indicate.

Something I didn't know about the vulnerability of face masks :

...masks can become contaminated by sneezes and soggy on humid days, and it is unclear whether changing them carelessly is more dangerous than not wearing them.
They also require a lot of “social engineering,” Dr. Bell said. If they are recommended only for the sick, for example, everyone may avoid them because it marks a person as infectious.

'Social distancing' is probably the most chilling new term of government-speak I've heard in many years. What does it mean? Exactly what it says. In social situations, keep your distance. No kissing, don't shake hands and stand a few good feet back from your work mates or people in your local grocery store. Which may turn out to be extremely difficult to do. How do you practice 'social distancing' on the subway? You don't. That's why the government will shut them down if, or when, a bird flu pandemic breaks out.

Have you tried out the 'elbow bump' yet, as an alternative to shaking hands?

From New York Times :

To the pantheon of social arbiters who came up with the firm handshake, the formal bow and the air kiss, get ready to add a new fashion god: the World Health Organization, chief advocate of the "elbow bump." If the avian flu goes pandemic while Tamiflu and vaccines are still in short supply, experts say, the only protection most Americans will have is "social distancing," which is the new politically correct way of saying "quarantine."

But distancing also encompasses less drastic measures, like wearing face masks, staying out of elevators — and the bump. Such stratagems, those experts say, will rewrite the ways we interact, at least during the weeks when the waves of influenza are washing over us.

...the social revolution is likely to focus on the most basic goal of all: keeping other people's cooties at arm's length. The bump, a simple touching of elbows, is a substitute for the filthy practice of shaking hands, in which a person who has politely sneezed into a palm then passes a virus to other hands, whose owners then put a finger in an eye or a pen in a mouth. The bump breaks that chain. Only a contortionist can sneeze on his elbow.

...other likely steps will strike at things New Yorkers are loath to give up. Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, the deputy city health commissioner in charge of avian flu preparation, said his first move would probably be to ban Major League Baseball games, Broadway shows, movies, parades and other large gatherings.

Closing schools or shutting the subways might be even more effective, because children are much more efficient than adults at spreading flu, and subways are enclosed spaces where sneezes linger in the air — but doing that would be harder to pull off, Dr. Weisfuse said.

"People talk about 'flu days' like snow days," he said, "and if it was just days or a week, that would be simple. But if it's weeks or months, that becomes another matter." Without mass transit, no one gets to work and the economy collapses, he pointed out, and many poor children depend on the free breakfasts and lunches they get at school.

The government of Taiwan...three years ago during the SARS epidemic...ordered everyone who had a cough or fever, or who cared for a family member or patients who did, to wear a mask if they ventured outdoors. The head of Taiwan's version of the Centers for Disease Control correctly noted that studies showed that masks do much more good if the sick wear them, keeping sneeze droplets in, than if the healthy do.

But masks were rare on the streets, and the mayor of Taipei, the capital city, decided to ignore the data and pay more attention to the psychology. The sick and exposed would never wear masks, he reasoned, if it marked them as disease carriers. So he simply issued a mayoral order: no one without a mask could ride the subway. The next day, everyone in Taipei was wearing them. Within a week, they had become a fashion item, printed with logos like the Nike swoosh, the Burberry plaid and the Paul Frank monkey.

Pictures of the 1918 flu epidemic include much evidence of that sort of mass psychology. In a photograph of ranks of Seattle police officers, all are wearing masks; in one of 45 Philadelphia gravediggers digging trenches for the dead, none wear them. In a photograph of dozens of beds in a military field hospital, almost all of the patients, doctors and nurses seem to have masks — but most in the foreground have pulled them down for the photographers. People act as the group acts.

When a disease seems far away, as avian flu still does, notions like mask fashion and elbow bumping sound like jokes. But when people start dying, panic ensues, and nothing seems too far-fetched to try. In the 1918 epidemic, Prescott, Ariz., outlawed handshaking. Some small towns tried to close themselves off, barricading their streets against outsiders and telling any citizen who left not to plan on coming back. In factories, common drinking cups gave way to a new invention: the paper cup.

When you start seeing characters on popular sitcoms or television dramas bumping elbows instead of shaking hands, you will know you are in the process of being re-educated for the new era of 'social distancing'.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Report Reveals US Defence Department Predicts American Pandemic Toll Of 100 Million Sick, 3 Million Dead

US Lines Up National Guard To Enforce Quarantines During Pandemic

The US Defence Department has released a report stating that in the event of a "nationwide flu pandemic", both civilian and military medical and health facilities are likely to be overwhelmed with the sick and dying, with cities and towns shattered by breakdowns in public order. Presumably, that would include millions of panicked people trying to get their hands on non-existent vaccines and miracle cures.

The DD is now proposing that the National Guard be used not only to keep order at hospitals and medical facilities, but to provide medical aid and to enforce quarantines.

Once the National Guard gets back from Iraq, of course.

This Fox News report, drawing from the Defence Department primer, states that up to 35 percent of the US population could fall ill during a flu pandemic, with a death toll reaching some three million people.

Considering that each wave of a bird flu pandemic is expected to last between eight to twelve weeks, with at-home quarantines expected to be imposed for those caring for sick or dying relatives, and the closures of everything from schools to malls to public squares, transport lines and cinemas, the Defence Department has seen good cause to prepare serious plans for how it will cope if up to 100 million Americans were to fall ill, or had to be forced into quarantine.

It's an incomprehensible logistical problem, and one that clearly would be impossible to realistically roll out in any major way if the H5N1 virus was active in human populations across the United States.

Hard quarantine would be essential in stopping the virus spreading, necessitating closures of airports, train lines, bus lines and roads in and out of infected towns or cities.

But if such huge numbers of Americans were to fall ill, then many of the Guard and military would also likely to be out of action, either sick themselves, or called away to care for family members.

Curiously, the report cited by Fox News is from August 2006. It's called 'The Department of Defence Implementation Plan for Pandemic Influenza'. The report appears to have been resurrected due to the exposure of depleted National Guard personnel and equipment shortages during rescue and recovery operations after the Kansas F-5 tornado that all but wiped the farming town of Greensburg off the map :

According to the report, in the event of a pandemic or a bioterror attack, the Defense Department may be called by the president to assist civilian authorities in minimizing the spread of disease by placing restrictions on interstate transportation. Jurisdictions, the report adds, would be overwhelmed and unable to provide essential commodities and services. In addition, the nation will not be able to rely on airlines.

The report comes on the heels of complaints that the Guardsmen have been spread too thin to respond to a tornado that wiped out 95 percent of Greensburg, Kan. on Sunday. Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and some of her allies in Washington, D.C., have complained that the Guard's emergency response to help displaced residents following the F-5 tornado that killed at least 11 was slowed because equipment is deployed in Iraq.

Speaking after a visit by President Bush to Greensburg on Wednesday, Sebelius said the absence of equipment is an ongoing issue for every governor in the country, and she conveyed her concerns to the president.

While the issue of whether or not various states have enough National Guard resources to deal with natural disasters, or flu pandemics, is important, this is the first time I've seen this Defence Department 'Implementation Plan For Pandemic Influenza' report mentioned anywhere in the mainstream media.

That the US Defence Department is looking at scenarios where they are expecting to have to cope with up to 3 million dead and possibly 100 million falling sick, and needing to be quarantined during the entire expected three month stretch of an influenza pandemic outbreak, is simply mind-blowing. And their numbers are a massive increase on figures from last year.

The last mainstream American news story that comes immediately to mind mentioned a possible American death toll from a pandemic was 200,000.

The US Defence Department, however, is working off formulas that produce fatality stats of 3 million dead.

So who's right? The World Health Organisation or the US Department of Defence?

Pray that we don't have to find out.

NOTE : President Bush now has the legal authority to over-ride the states and take control of all National Guard units during the event of a major terrorist attack, natural disaster or influenza pandemic.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Egyptian Authorities Battle Ingrained Conspiracy Theories In Their Fight To Stop The Spread Of Bird Flu

A remarkable story from Bloomberg about why Egypt is facing such a monumental challenge in battling bird flu. Some 14 people have died from bird flu in Egypt, with more than 34 becoming infected. Egypt rates as one of the worst countries in the world for repeated outbreaks of the virus, and the government has culled more than 15 million chickens. The government recently stated it needed more than $US450 million to fight bird flu.

But not only are authorities trying to change entrenched cultural paradigms that see chickens running loose inside houses, and climbing onto children's beds, they also have to go up against widespread conspiracy theories that see many men believing that government bred chickens are tainted with poisons that will send them sterile, or even kill them :

"We are dealing with a society where chickens are part of the family,'' said Ibrahim el-Kerdani, spokesman for the World Health Organization's regional office in Cairo.

As many as 5 million Egyptian households raise poultry in their backyards, both as a source of nutrition and income. The government is battling a culture that doubts the quality of poultry that isn't raised, fed and slaughtered at home according to Islamic rites.

"The government wants men to be impotent to control over- population,'' said Abdel Azim. "It invented the bird flu to force us to eat the hormone-pumped chickens that make us sterile.''

Mohamed Attiya, a 56-year-old handyman, said he would divorce his wife if she cooked farmed or frozen chicken.

"In this country, you never know the truth, never,'' he said. "They would poison us if they can. Trust me.''

Abdel Azim's birds roam around his home, mingling with his wife, four children, two sisters and brother. He said his 3-year-old son loves the chickens as much as him and treats them as pets.

"The chickens wake my son in the morning,'' said Abdel Azim, who teaches classical Arabic at a local school. "If he didn't find them on his bed in the morning, he would cry for an hour.''

Go Here To Read The Full Story

In Other Bird Flu Related News :

Panic Grips Town In West Bengal As 2000 Birds Die

Fresh Outbreak Fears In Japan As Dead Birds Test Positive For Virus

Bird Flu Virus Strikes Vietnam, Again

US Centre For Disease Control Announces Face Masks Are Unlikely To Stop You Catching The Bird Flu Virus During A Pandemic

Indonesia : 29 Year Old Woman Dies From H5N1 - 75th Officially Declared Victim

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

United States : Pandemic Impact On Local Schools Examined

Lots Of Questions, But Few Answers

A local meeting of school officials, community leaders and parents in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, aimed to examine the local impact of US government guidelines that schools will have to be closed down for eight to twelve weeks during outbreaks of pandemic bird flu.

Actually sitting down and discussing the effects of school closures on students, parents and the local communities throws a harsh and disturbing light on just how improbable such plans to stem the spread of pandemic bird flu actually are.

The US government, and state governments, may demand school closures, but actually doing will create a vast array of logistical problems, severe economic impacts and even the breakdown of local communities.

Finding and reading local newspaper reports, like the one excerpted below, reveal just how devastating the impact of a bird flu pandemic in the United States, and around the world, will actually turn out to be, and that's outside the huge death tolls and the large percentage of the population expected to fall seriously ill.

The plans to cope with pandemic bird flu are being examined on local levels now, but such meetings reveal just how completely unprepared communities are, and will probably remain for the next few years at least.

From :

Closing schools has been determined to be one of the best defenses to slow the spread of a flu outbreak, but the implications of long-term school closings are staggering. A flu outbreak of huge proportions would force school doors shut for weeks, if not months.

School administrators, health officials, law enforcement officers and business executives gathered recently to discuss how to handle closing schools for such an extended time. They also received a lesson on the realities of a flu pandemic.

One scenario being discussed is a widespread outbreak that comes in three waves, each lasting eight weeks. That's more than half a year.

"The cycle we depend on to work would be completely disrupted," said Andy Rucks, an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Public Health.

Rucks, who works with the South Central Public Health Partnership, led the tabletop exercise on school closings as a way to counter pandemic influenza. He and others are conducting similar exercises across the state.

"It could disrupt the school-year cycle permanently, so much that we will have to rethink how graduation or education will continue to work," Rucks said.

With kindergarten through 12th grades closed indefinitely, the balance of the community work force and life would come unhinged. Schools, after all, provide a form of day care for working parents.

From there the effects would spiral. Without a full work force, the local economy would be disrupted.

The federal government has urged everyone from individuals to businesses to establish detailed pandemic flu preparedness plans.

The Alabama Department of Education began working with the state Department of Public Health in February 2006 to create awareness about bird flu and start drafting a plan, should the illness become a reality here.

Closing schools for occurrences such as inclement weather is significantly different from closing them in the case of a pandemic. Once the weather event is over, schools typically reopen. But with widespread illness possibly affecting teachers, students and bus drivers, the impact would go beyond a few days.

The questions ran the gamut:

_How would students still receive an education during that time?

_Would teachers and staff be paid?

_How would students who receive free or reduced lunch be fed?

_Would latchkey children become the overwhelming norm? Or would parents have to take off work to stay at home with their child?

Answers, however, were limited.