News and notes about the Bird Flu Virus, page 2

Bird Flu News

This page provides news and comments about the bird flu you hear about in the news, sometimes referred to as avian bird flu, Asian bird flu, and avian influenza A (H5N1). We will update these pages as often as possible.

History and Latest News on the Bird Flu

Here we begin a short history and then start tracking developments in the spread of Asian bird flu:

Bird Flu News on December 15, 2003

South Korea: A highly contagious type of bird flu is found and confirmed at a chicken farm near Seoul. Mass culling of poultry begins as the virus rapidly spreads across the country.

Bird Flu News on January 8, 2004

Vietnam: Government reports that bird flu was found on its poultry farms.

Bird Flu News on March 16, 2005

China: Government declares that it has stamped out the disease. This seems strange because they have never admitted it was in their country in the first place.

Bird Flu News on April 5, 2005

The United Nations says the H7 strain of the bird flu has been found in North Korea.

Expert: Dr. Michael T. Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

In Foreign Affairs, July/August 2005 Dr. Osterholm was quoted, “Recent clinical, epidemiological, and laboratory evidence suggests that the impact of a pandemic caused by the current H5N1 strain would be similar to that of the 1918-19 pandemic. More than half of the people killed in that pandemic were 18 to 40 years old and largely healthy. If 1918-19 mortality data are extrapolated to the current U.S. population, 1.7 million people could die, half of them between the ages of 18 and 40. Globally, those same estimates yield 180-360 million deaths, more than five times the cumulative number of documented AIDS deaths.”

Dr. Osterholm is also famous for his utterance after a press conference when he described our fate if a pandemic were to occur this year: “We’re screwed”.

Expert: Dr. Henry Niman

In The Dallas Morning News, 13 August 2005 Dr. Henry Niman was quoted, “There are a lot of communities that really have no plan for how to deal with a pandemic if it hits. If you know what could be coming, your community or company could put an emergency plan together. If there’s a pandemic, the movement of people will certainly be limited. Schools will close. Mass gatherings won’t happen. If you look at the potential economic, political and social impact, this could certainly be much bigger than a terrorist attack…I don’t think anybody who’s looked at this thing hard can be optimistic.”

Bird Flu News on August 19, 2005

Malaysia: Government says that a strain of bird flu was found in two chickens that died near the Thai border.

Expert: Prof. John Oxford, Queen Mary’s School of Medicine:

In a Times Online article, August 25, 2005, Prof. Oxford was quoted, “This is a national emergency, how could it be otherwise? Resources are made available for natural emergencies and now many people are threatened by a virus which can decimate a country.”

Expert: Dr. Kumnuan Ungchusak, Director of Thailand’s Bureau of Epidemiology:
The Nation, Bangkok, on September 5, 2005 Dr Ungchusak was quoted: “It’s apparent to us insiders that [the virus] has already moved from phase 3 to phase 4.” [in terms of the World Health Organisation’s pandemic alert levels]. Dr Kamnuan Ungchusak’s work was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January. “Reports of the infection spreading among humans have suggested to scientists that the virus has become more pathogenic than ever,” the doctor said.

Dr. Osterholm’s presentation at the Wilson Center on September 22, 2005 (with Helen Branswell, reporter for the Canadian Press).

Expert: Dr. Jai P. Narain, director of the WHO’s Communicable Diseases Department:

At CIDRAP News, on September 7, 2005 Dr. Narain was quoted: “We may be at almost the last stage before the pandemic virus may emerge.” He was referring to the risk that avian flu in Asia will lead to a human flu pandemic.

Bird Flu News on September 27, 2005

Thailand: Government says it has found a case where one human probably infected another with the bird flu. It said that this was an isolated incident and that it posed little risk to the population.

Expert: Dr. David Nabarro, U.N. system coordinator for avian and human influenza:

In Newsday, on September 28, 2005 Dr. Nabarro was quoted, “We expect the next influenza pandemic to come at any time now, and it’s likely to be caused by a mutant of the virus that is currently causing bird flu in Asia.”

Bird Flu News on October 8, 2005

Turkey: The first cases of avian flu are reported. Romania reports suspected avian flu.

Bird Flu News on October 10, 2005

The European Commission bans imports of live birds and feathers from Turkey to any of the 25 nations in the EU.

Bird Flu News on October 11, 2005

USAToday had a table titled “A scary bird flu scenario” which projected about 67 million cases of bird flu in the United States with just over half a million deaths. We find this to be wildly optimistic. The table seems to estimate the number of deaths using a mortality rate of eight tenths of one percent. This is so far off that we wonder who authorized such misinformation. Even the U.S. government admits that this bird flu may kill 1.9 million and sicken more than half the country’s population. This down-playing of the seriousness of this situation only delays the actions that will have to be taken when this pandemic strikes.

The mortality rate for this bird flu (H5N1) started out at 80 percent, meaning that 8 out of 10 people who caught the bird flu died. The mortality rate as of October 1, 2005, is 50 percent. This is why governments around the world are close to panic when they find out about the bird flu.

Bird Flu News on October 13, 2005

A strain of the H5 bird flu virus is detected in Romanian ducks in the Danube delta, confirming that the virus is now in Europe.

The European Commission confirms the findings in Romania and says it will ban Romanian imports.

The EU confirms that the H5N1 virus has been found in Turkey.

Bird Flu News on October 14, 2005

European officials report a large number of waterfowl in Iran have died without explanation.

In South America, Colombian authorities reported Thursday that a strain of bird flu had been detected at three poultry farms in western Tolima State, all are now under quarantine. Andres Felipe Arias (Agriculture Minister) said that the strain was not the same variety as the bird flu found in Turkey and that it posed no threat to humans. This has not reassured neighboring countries. Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela have suspended poultry imports from Colombia.

The bird flue is now in Mongolia.

In New Zealand officials and experts are meeting every two weeks to update plans on what to do if their “code red” scenario becomes real. Plans are being made to declare a state of public emergency when the virus shows up there. They plan on closing borders and schools, and distributing the antiviral drug, Tamiflu (which has now become ineffective).

The bird flu as been reported in North Korea (birds only, no human cases yet).

The UK plans to restrict travel and ban some public events.

About 40 governments have ordered Tamiflu since the World Health Organization urged stockpiling of that antiviral drug. According to Roche (the maker of Tamiflu), the United States is expected to have a stockpile of 4.3 million does by the end of 2005.

India plans to bring in Tamiflu. One Indian drug company will start making a generic version of Tamiflu.

According to a research firm in Yardley, Pa., pharmacies in the United States filled eight times as many prescriptions for Tamiflu last week compared to the same week in 2004.

The threat of the bird flu virus has transformed the minor product, Tamiflu into a major best seller. Sales in the first half of 2005 have soared to over $588 million. The potential profits from this drug have grown so much that the original developers are pursuing two lawsuits to get more money. US-based Gilead Sciences and Australia’s Biota Holding have filed separate claims against Switzerland’s Roche Holding AG and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline claiming they failed to market the drugs properly.

The French government has formed a task force to deal with the bird flu virus. This task force convinced their government to ordered 2.5 million doses of an experimental bird flu vaccine from a French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi-Aventis. The prototype vaccine is to be produced at plant in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

The U.S. government awarded a $100-million contract to Sanofi-Aventis last month for that French company to produce its experimental bird-flu vaccine in bulk concentrate form. The experimental vaccine is to be produced at the Swiftwater facility. That is enough to treat 20 million people.

The above indicates why this situation is so frightening. Since there is no vaccine specific to the coming bird flu, health care professionals have no choice but to stockpile experimental vaccines.

Bird Flu News on October 15, 2005

According to international health experts, the fall in the mortality rate from 80% to 50% is good for the survivors but bad news for everyone else. If the disease quickly kills those it infects, it has less chance of spreading. A less virulent form of the disease would allow those infected more time to spread it around. In other words, if an infected person were very ill they would be more likely to stay home from work and travel less. If the infected person didn’t feel as bad, they would be more likely to travel and go to work, spreading the disease.

News from Vietnam indicates the mortality rate there has dropped to 35% there, about half what it was last year but the reliability of that report is in question.

The bird flu virus (H5N1) has a documented propensity to acquire genes from viruses infecting other animal species allowing it to mutate rapidly. If a person who already has another virus catches the bird flu, the two viruses can combine to create a new strain.

We are compiling a comprehensive list of things you ought to do and ought to not do to protect yourself, family and friends. One thing you can do now is, tell your government to speed up the development of flu vaccine production so that when this killer pandemic shows up we will be able to respond faster.

In Russia, The bird flu was first reported July 2005. In started in the Novosibirsk Region and in the following three weeks, spread to neighboring Tyumen Omsk and Kurgan regions as well as Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Bird flu symptoms are likely to start with abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, lung pain, and bleeding from the nose and gums. About five days later, symptoms emerge in the respiratory system and death usually results from respiratory failure in 50 percent of cases.

It is now believed that eating under-cooked poultry products may transmit the bird flu.

Distribution delays or shortages of influenza vaccine have occurred in the United States in three of the last five flu seasons. Such delays and shortages remain possible and shortages are expected.

There are reports that the virus has been found in pigs. This is a major concern because the simultaneous infection of a pig by a human strain of the virus could provide the opportunity for a genetic mix between the two strains creating a virus able to spread rapidly between humans.

For the normal flu season, the best time to get vaccinated is usually late October or early November. Adults develop peak protection against influenza infection about 2 weeks after being vaccinated, which lasts about three months.

Bird Flu News on October 16, 2005

To prevent the spread of the bird flu, authorities in Romania killed about 10,000 domestic birds today. The village of Ceamurlia de Jos is being disinfected and will remain under quarantine for the next 21 days.

Bird Flu News on October 17, 2005

Greece reported a case of bird flu in a turkey today but it is not known if this is the deadly H5N1 strain. A string of islands was placed under quarantine while Greece officials investigate.
The European Union has said it is preparing to ban the movement of live birds and poultry meat from that region.

Many countries are still planning on using Tamiflu as their first line of defense against the bird flue even though it has been proven to be ineffective.

Bird flu has been found in whooper swans (that migrate each year) and ordinary sparrows.

According to the U.S. government’s preparedness plan, one half of the country’s population could be incapacitated by the bird flu, disabling many essential services.

An executive at a Scottish company today released a 67-page document aimed at dealing with an outbreak of bird flu there. Under the terms of the plan, upon confirmation of a case of bird flu, a 6 mile cordon would be established around the area and preventive measures taken such as the slaughter of poultry. Restrictions would be placed on products and birds.

So far, only about 40 countries have developed preparedness plans to deal with the bird flu.

Britain has ordered 14 million doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, enough to treat 25 per cent of the population. But so far only 2.5 million doses have been stockpiled.

The Czech Republic reports that it has ordered thousands of packets of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu.

In an effort to calm fears about the bird flu, the UN health agency’s pandemic alert chief, Michael Ryan released misinformation today saying, “Clearly migratory birds may be implicated in spreading this disease and we may see avian influenza in other countries because of that.” This is not a situation where something “may” happen; it has already taken place.

Bird Flu News on October 18, 2005

Although the mortality rate for the bird flu has dropped to about 50% (60 of the 117 people infected died), the mortality rate of the next mutation of this virus is not known. It could just as easily have a mortality rate higher or lower than the previous strain.

Our number one recommendation to prevent the spread of this disease is to stop the travel of people from infected areas to areas that are not infected. Note that this would still allow help from outside into the infected areas using appropriate precautions.
Report on Bird Flu
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