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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bird Flu Update 021509

Health and Science Segment For Sunday 021509

Hey folks,

As you all know, I am watching this very closely. Turns out that China may actually be making Bird Flu worse. According to Time.com - Is China Making Its Bird Flu Outbreak Worse? By Austin Ramzy / Beijing Friday, Feb. 13, 2009

One thing is certain about avian influenza: it's deadly. Of the three people who contracted the H5N1 strain of the virus in China last year, three died. In the first six weeks of 2009, eight people have come down with bird flu and five have died. Another thing is that — while the disease has yet to go pandemic as many doctors fear it could — it remains worryingly persistent. Every year since 2003, about 100 people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa contract the disease. Last year, in a rare exception, the number dropped below 50.

But bird flu, it seems, is back. This year, China has already recorded eight human cases of the disease. Last month five people died in locations as far removed from each other as Beijing in the north, Xinjiang in the west, Guangxi in the south, Hunan in the center and Shandong in the east — and one of the highest tallies of bird flu deaths China has ever recorded in a month. "From a disease-control perspective, the increase in cases in China is notable — as is the wide geographic spread," says Dr. Hans Troedsson, the World Health Organization's representative in China. There is still no evidence that the virus has mutated to spread easily between humans, he says. But while such a nightmare scenario, which could set off a global flu pandemic that could kill millions, has shown no signs of being an immediate threat, serious concerns remain. "The fact that this is the highest number for a single month in China reminds us that the virus is entrenched and circulating in the environment," Troedsson says. See pictures of the resurgence of bird flu.

On Feb. 10, authorities in the far western region of Xinjiang culled more than 13,000 chickens in the city of Hotan after 519 died in a bird flu outbreak. But until this week China had reported no widespread outbreaks of the virus among bird populations, prompting concerns among some public health experts that mainland health and veterinary authorities could be missing — or even concealing — the spread of the disease through mainland poultry and wild birds. Hong Kong, "Hong Kong, where the first human cases of H5N1 infection were found in 1997, reported finding a dozen birds with the deadly strain of the virus earlier this year — a good indication that the virus is very likely present in adjacent Guangdong province. But so far Guangdong has reported no bird cases. Equally unusual is that after such a busy month of infections in China, reports of human cases have gone silent. "It's a surprise for me since in January the human cases, you have so many, but in February it suddenly stops," says Dr. Guan Yi, a virologist from the University of Hong Kong. Read "Is Hong Kong's Bird Flu Vaccine Failing?"

I would be willing to say that between these two choices, I would go with "concealing." This is not the time for China, nor ANYONE in the World to be covering up this disease. We need to have all the information we can get to make sure that we are doing EVERYTHING that we can to help stave it off, or even better, come up with a cure.

Was there anything in Obama's Stimulus Plan that could help research and development on this? Nope.

The human deaths in China, plus new outbreaks among poultry in neighboring Vietnam and northeast India indicate the likelihood of a firm presence of the virus on the mainland. Some experts worry that China could be missing the disease's deadly progression. Last week Dr. Lo Wing-Lok, an advisor on communicable diseases to the Hong Kong government, said the mainland had not been forthright about the spread of bird flu in poultry. "There's no doubt of an outbreak of bird flu in China, though the government hasn't admitted it," he told Bloomberg. Yu Kangzhen, the Ministry of Agriculture's chief veterinarian, responded in an interview with the state-run Xinhua news service that human bird flu cases are not necessarily linked with animal cases. Read about living with bird flu in Indonesia.

If mainland investigators are missing the virus, it may be because efforts to block it are inadvertently hiding it. China developed an avian influenza vaccine for poultry in 2005 and inoculates millions of birds annually. But not everyone agrees it's a panacea. In 2005 Dr Robert Webster, a influenza expert at St Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, suggested that China may have been using substandard vaccines that stopped symptoms of bird flu in poultry but allowed the virus to continue to spread. Recently, Guangzhou-based expert Zhong Nanshan has also said there is a danger that China's widespread vaccinations could conceal the virus. "Special attention should be paid to such animals, including those that have been vaccinated," Xinhua news service quoted him as saying on Feb. 6. "The existing vaccines can only reduce the amount of virus, rather than totally inactivating it."

Mainland controls may also be lacking another layer of more basic prevention in the way that live chicken markets, prevalent throughout Asia, are inspected. Some worry that Chinese monitors may only be calling for culls once a large number of poultry has become sick, as in the Hotan case this week in which 519 birds died. In contrast, last year Hong Kong culled thousands of birds after a regular inspection found only infected chickens in a wet market. The infected birds, experts say, showed no external signs of disease, and could have been missed if inspectors were only screening birds that were dead or visibly ill.

Ramping up preventative measures may increasingly be a matter of life and death. Since bird flu re-emerged in 2003, 254 people in 15 countries have died from it. Researchers now fear that other crises like global warming and the global recession have crowded the virus out of the news. But the disease survives — in the limelight or out of it. "The point is this virus has not disappeared at all," says Malik Peiris, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong. "It kind of dropped off the radar screen of media attention, but the virus itself has increased its spread. It's not only entrenched in Asia, the Middle East, in Egypt, Africa, parts of India and Bangladesh. It's really a problem."


Not really. "Researchers now fear that other crises like global warming and the global recession have crowded the virus out of the news." Bird Flu is never really IN the news. A little blurb here and there, but really not much coverage at all.

Some of the reasons for this is that they claim they do not want to create a panic. They do not want to prematurely stir up fear amongst the population. Since there is no cure and no known workable vaccine, why tell people that this very real threat is out there.

Just the opposite is actually true. We need to inform people of this very real threat. We need to share all the information we get, as soon as we get it, and work together. We need to follow this closely, as I will continue to do.
Peter

Sources:
Time.com - Is China Making Its Bird Flu Outbreak Worse?

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