Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Austria Detects Bird Flu in Poultry; Virus Spreads in Nigeria

The deadly HN51 bird flu virus was found for the first time in poultry in the European Union, after a dead swan infected by the disease was taken to an animal shelter housing three ducks and two chickens.

The infected ducks and chickens aren't from a farm, Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety spokesman Oskar Wawschinek said today in an interview. Final test results on the birds are expected next week from an EU laboratory. In Nigeria, the virus may cause a ``regional disaster'' as infections widened and local authorities struggled to enforce disease control measures, the Food and Agriculture Organization said today.

``There is ample evidence that the Nigerian bird flu situation is difficult and worrisome,'' said Joseph Domenech, FAO's chief veterinary officer, in the e-mailed statement. Nigeria may need to start a vaccination program, Domenech said.

The World Health Organization is tracking the spread of the H5N1 virus in the event it evolves to spread easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic such as the 1918 outbreak that killed 50 million people worldwide. GlaxoSmithKline Plc said it's already sold out this year's production of the antiviral drug Relenza, and more than 60 countries have ordered Roche Holding AG's Tamiflu drug, also used to treat bird flu in humans.

The spread of the virus in birds creates more opportunity for human infection as people come into contact with poultry during slaughtering, plucking feathers, butchering or preparation for cooking. At least 92 of the 170 people known to have been infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus since late 2003 have died, mainly in Asia, according to the WHO.


A pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges and starts spreading as easily as seasonal flu, by coughing and sneezing, according to the Geneva-based WHO. Because the virus is new, humans will have no pre-existing immunity, making it likely that people who contract pandemic flu will become more seriously ill than when infected by seasonal flu, WHO said on its Web site.

So far, there isn't any evidence that H5N1 is evolving to become become more easily transmissible to humans as the disease spreads in Europe, Africa and Asia, WHO said this week. The most recent pandemic in 1968, known as Hong Kong flu, killed 1 million people worldwide.

Animal diseases are mutating to infect humans at an ``unsustainable'' rate, with more than one new pathogen capable of causing infectious diseases reported per year over the past quarter-century, a British scientist said.

Over the past 25 years, a total of 38 new pathogen species including viruses, bacteria, fungi and other organisms associated with infectious diseases in humans have been reported, Professor Mark Woolhouse, Chair of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, said this week at a meeting of scientists in St. Louis, Missouri.


Those making the ``species jump'' from animals to humans include bird flu, variant Creutzfeld Jakob disease, derived from mad cow disease, and human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV), Woolhouse said.

The Hungarian government has appropriated 5.8 billion forint ($27.4 million) to respond to the bird flu threat, including compensation for chicken farmers for potential losses, government spokesman Andras Batiz said yesterday.

Batiz said that by early March, Hungary will have the permit in place to distribute 20,000 doses of the bird flu vaccine that is being developed in Hungary. While Hungary's government has pronounced the vaccine effective against the H5N1 virus, it has yet to be fully tested.

``We have precisely enough -- that is, 20,000 doses -- available to us in Hungary, so that if the situation comes up where bird flu spreads to domestic poultry, that the surgeon general can decide to vaccinate people who breed or who work immediately with those birds,'' Batiz said.


Germany's most recent confirmed H5N1 cases, involving 18 swans, three geese and a Eurasian buzzard, have brought the country's tally above 100 and prompted authorities to place the coastline of the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, on the Baltic Sea, under observation.

The FAO has allocated $1 million to support surveillance in 20 African nations, including Nigeria and Egypt, where infections in birds have been reported.

An Indonesian woman who died Feb. 20 tested positive for the H5N1 strain in a local laboratory check, Ilham Patu, a doctor coordinating bird flu efforts at Jakarta's Sulianti Saroso Hospital said today.

Malaysia is investigating how 40 chickens became infected and died last week in the state of Selangor, Kamaruddin Md Isa, head of the disease control unit at the Veterinary Services Department, said today. The outbreak of the disease is Malaysia's first in over a year.

Fighting Cocks

Illegally imported fighting cocks are ``a possibility, as well as wild migratory birds,'' Kamaruddin said. The result of the probe may be known within a week, he said. Cock fighting is common in Southeast Asia as gamblers bet on the winner.

At least five Asian countries including China banned imports of birds following the recent outbreaks in India and Malaysia. Iran banned exports of red meat to check against a ``steep'' climb in red meat and fish prices as customers shun poultry products because of concern over bird flu.

India killed more than 223,000 fowl as officials try to prevent the spread of the deadly H5N1 virus to people in the world's second-most populous nation.

The government will provide livestock insurance plans covering 620,000 animals nationwide following the recent culls, Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi today. India had 489 million poultry as of 2003, when the latest livestock census data was released.

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