Friday, April 08, 2005

North Korea wants help

As I suspected the bird flu outbreak is not over. It is impossible to say if it is getting worse because information doesn't exactly come out of North Korea in a flood, but the fact that they are willing to accept help from the South and are appealing for international help doesn't make it sound great.
South Korea's Unification Ministry says it has received a message from North Korea through an inter-Korean border hotline.

North Korea has called for quarantine equipment and medical goods to contain the spread of the poultry disease, which broke out in the country on February 25. (AFP via ABC News)
The existence of human cases has been denied, but the South Koreans are saying they have no information whether or not there is human infection and most likely the North Koreans have not looked hard. The same source reported from a UN conference in Paris yesterday that North Korean has appealed ("through diplomatic channels") for international help. UN representatives are still saying that the outbreak is unlikely to spread to humans, but the basis for this seems slim. Allegedly (still not confirmed) the strain involved is H7 but the neuraminidase component (the "N" part) has so far not been specified and H7N7 has been shown easily transmitted to and between people. Moreover there is substantial concern about reassortment or recombination with co-infecting H5N1 or some other more virulent virus or even an increase in virulence of the H7 strain in humans.

Global spread of the avian disease now seems almost inevitable (Reuters via MSNBC):
“The potential for the disease to spread to other continents is real and the international scientific community cannot remain insensitive to the challenge of preventing this happening,” OIE Director-General Bernard Vallat told a conference in Paris.
And it's not just poultry:
Francois-Xavier Meslin of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said 79 human cases of bird flu had now been reported in three countries with a “frightening” 62 percent fatality rate.

He said indications of possible changes in its clinical effects on humans and an increase in the number of reported clusters of human cases were worrying signs and the WHO was “on alert” for the possibility of a pandemic emerging.
Sounds like they have been reading Henry Niman at Recombinomics (not that they'd admit it, of course).