Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Bird flu news: bad, good, bad?

Recombinomics (welcome back after a short hiatus) and others are reporting a new suspect human case in Thailand. This is a little boy (6 years old) with a history of recent contact with sick poultry. This follows another suspect case of a 7 year old boy with lung involvement, fever and also a history of recent contact with sick poultry. A test for H5N1 was reportedly negative in that case, but Henry Niman raises again (as he has in the past) the real possibility that false negatives are occurring with some frequency. This is an extremely important question that deserves serious consideration by authorities at WHO, in Thailand and in Vietnam. To date, Niman seems to be the only one to have addressed this. Official silence. Niman also reports further poultry outbreaks in Thailand, many near the suspect cases.

At the same time, Vietnam is implying an impending victory over bird flu in their country. No new cases were reported over the Tet New Year celebrations and the number of provinces battling the disease in poultry has decreased.
"The situation is much better compared to the days before New Year," said Bui Quang Anh, head of the agriculture ministry's animal health department.

Seven of the country's 34 provinces and cities that were fighting the disease had not registered any new cases in poultry for 21 days, he said.

Four people who had been admitted to Hanoi's Bach Mai hospital with the disease had been discharged, he added.

"Thanks to these good results, we will keep doing our best to control the epidemic in February or March by maintaining the strict prevention measures already in force," Anh said.
But WHO is warning against complacency, noting that the disease is now firmly entrenched in southeast asia and will likely recur.
"It is mainly an agricultural issue. Not only it is a matter of getting rid of the virus but also to change the structure of the poultry production," [the WHO representative] said.

"If we don't do it and if we get complacent, I promise you we will see it happening again in six months or one year."
Just what it means "to change the structure of the poultry production" is unclear. We have reported here (and links above it in sidebar) the warnings of Ron Nigh that it may be the very changes in poultry production such a policy would promote that are responsible for the outbreak in the first place. Like a number of issues, the effects of agribusiness on bird flu are going unaddressed or possibly made worse.

It is worth remembering, too, that Vietnam declared victory twice last year. I guess you could say those claims were "premature."