Friday, January 28, 2005

Bird flu: update

This blog was not intended to be a bird flu site, but the lack of attention by the major news media in this country suggests frequent updates would be useful to those interested in this subject. Moroever, the response to bird flu is symbolic of the lack of priority given to genuine public health problems by the federal government (in comparison to other issues of lesser importance to the life, health and welfare of its citizens), and symptomatic of the lack of leadership in public health generally. So we will continue to post on it until this seems no longer useful.
  • The disease among bird continues to spread in Thailand. A third Thai province is now reporting H5N1 influenza in chickens and more than 400 wild pigeons have been culled in central Thailand following the discovery of a single infected pigeon in mid-December (but not reported in the usual poultry reports). (AFP via ABCNews [Australia])
  • Vietnam is setting up a nationwide system to try to stop the spread of the disease, which this month has spread to 27 cities and provinces and led to the forced culling of over 800,000 birds (News24, South Africa)). Details of the new effort are still not clear, but what is clear is that they are making a major effort to confront the problem. The Vietnamese equivalent of CDC will collect samples (blood?) from people at high risk for infection (poultry workers?) and individuals in "bird flu hot spots." If properly implemented such a system could produce extremely valuable information, assuming there is sufficient time.
  • China will vaccinate poultry and supervise markets and live poultry transportation. Japan is stockpiling the antiviral oseltamavir (Tamiflu) sufficient to treat 20 million of their population of 127 million people. The US reportedly has a total of 6 million doses for our 300 million people (see previous post). Japan is also readying plans to limit travel abroad and at home and to close schools if a pandemic begins. Hong Kong has strict vaccination requirements for chickens and plans to double its Tamiflu stocks (via Reuters Alertnet)
  • The Italian health ministry has called a meeting for February 3 to "make an analysis of the risk on the base of current new information and pinpoint possible scenarios . . . There is a real danger for public health which doesn't allow for delays" in strategy, according to a ministry statement (AP via ninemsn [Australia]).
  • Meanwhile, two Vietnamese girls (10 and 13 years old) in the south are the latest to test positive for H5N1 infection. Both are in critical condition and on respirators. The mother of the 13 year old died several days ago. They had slaughtered a duck previously (time interval not known from this report). The 10 year old's family buried sick birds at the house a month previously (this seems a rather long incubation period) (via ChinaView). The disease claimed a tenth victim in the north (News24, South Africa). Five more people in Vietnam are suspected of having contracted the disease and been admitted to the hospital (EastDay, PR China). Thus the total cases since the end of December appears to be 16, of whom 10 have died as of this date. It is difficult to keep track of the individual case reports coming out of Vietnam, so the numbers are continually being revised as better information becomes available.
Update (1/29/05, 12:30 AM EST): The 13 year old girl has now died, making this the 11th death this month. The 10 year old remains in critical condition (Channel NewsAsia).
  • The virus continues its mutation. Henry Niman reports on some new information at Recombinomics.
Update (same day, 11:45 am EST): Things continue to move as more health authorities recognize the magnitude of the problem. The Manila Times is reporting that the Philippines will continue to ban all poultry imports from affected areas; install disinfectant footbaths at seaports, airports and poultry farms; and forbid capture or killing of migratory birds (a seasonal practice in some areas of the Philippines). Farmers will be encouraged to keep livestock away from lakes and marshes where wildfowl are prevalent. In addition, surveillance will be increased and pamphlets on bird flu distributed nationwide.

Update (same day, 3 pm EST): Malaysia, is the latest government to sound the bird flu alarm (Daily Express News, Kuala Lumpur, Eastern Malaysia). It has placed its 135 hospitals and 4000 clinics on high alert in the event bird flu makes its way from Thailand and Vietnam.

Update (same day, 8:30 pm EST): Word is now on the far east wire services that Vietnam has deployed armed riot police at checkpoints around Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south where bird flu is epidemic among poultry and some dozen human cases have occurred (Reuters via Khaleej Times, Dubai). These armed police are augmenting traffic police who are checking and monitoring poultry transport into the city to stop infected or uncertified birds from entering. Authorities have started to destroy chickens and ducks of unknown origin. Reports suggest that this has sparked resentment among the affected population. Travel agents are being instructed not to take tourists to areas now burdened with infected poultry.

At this rate, Americans will soon be the least informed people in the world regarding bird flu.