Friday, October 28, 2005

Walking on egg shells

There is a lot of bird flu stuff in the news, but it's a little like the CIA leak investigation. Lots of miscellaneous facts but not much solid to go on. So instead of trying to meld all these things together without having an organizing principle, I'll just grab a few that interest me. For whatever reason.

ABCasiapacific reported that China had its third outbreak of bird flu. The flu obsessed already knew that. What got my attention in the same report, however, was that Japan was sending "more experts and medical equipment to Indonesia."
The Japanese embassy says three experts in laboratory diagnosis are due to arrive in Indonesia along with the first batch of medical materials. Japan is also preparing to send more experts to help the government in areas such as surveillance, laboratory diagnosis and clinical management.
So this is a clinical team, not a team of poultry experts. There are reportedly more than 80 suspect cases of human bird flu in Indonesia, most of whom have not been confirmed one way or another. It sounds like Japan is going to bring some diagnostic expertise into the country. Interesting.

Meanwhile, in Europe, where dead birds seem to be popping up here and there, the poultry industry is worried about a decline in sales (Xinhuanet). Chicken consumption in Italy fell 40% last month. A number of countries are curtailing free-range chickens, requiring instead the birds be raised indoors to avoid infection from migrating birds.

And the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is warning people off raw eggs and advising thorough cooking of chicken:
"Cooking poultry and eggs will protect humans from salmonella or other organisms, and if the avian influenza virus is present, it would also be inactivated through cooking,'' Anne-Laure Gassin, a spokeswoman for the European Food Safety Authority, said in a telephone interview from the body's headquarters in Parma, Italy.


The link between humans catching the disease and eating infected poultry products hasn't been proven, the head of the WHO's Western Pacific office, Shigeru Omi, told a conference in Copenhagen yesterday. Contact with an infected animal's feces or respiratory secretions are the most common transmission methods, he said.

"We don't think there's much risk, but we can't say there's no risk, so we give the advice to cook chicken thoroughly,'' Ben Duncan, a spokesman for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said by phone. The biggest risk from eggs is that the shells may harbor traces of excrement containing the virus, he said. (Bloomberg)
Sounds like prudent, authoritative advice. Unfortunately, there are a lot of authorities out there and they are saying different things. Consider the risks of eating chicken and eggs:
A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency said: "Like EFSA, we are not aware of any reports of people getting avian flu from eating poultry or eggs.

"The issue is people having contact with live birds that have the disease.

"EFSA appears to be reiterating long-standing food safety advice about cooking poultry and eggs thoroughly to kill bugs and viruses."

The European Commission said that the consumption of poultry eggs and meat in the EU poses no bird flu risk to humans.

"We don't have avian influenza in commercial poultry in the European Union and we consider that poultry meat and eggs, especially when properly cooked, pose no risk to human health," said spokesman Philip Tod.

Professor Hugh Pennington of the Society for General Microbiology, said: "The virus is transmitted by live birds. It's not in the poultry meat and it's certainly not in eggs." (BBC)
Hmmm. I thought I understood it the first time, but now I'm not so sure. The UK Food Standards Agency says only live birds are risky. EFSA says breathing infected feces and respiratory secretions. Maybe I should read further:
Humans catch avian flu through close contact with live infected birds.

Birds excrete the virus in their faeces, which dry and become pulverised, and are then inhaled.

Therefore, the people thought to be at risk are those involved in the slaughter and preparation of meat that may be infected.
Live birds only. Feces with virus in it. So I'm not sure I get the "therefore" part of "poultry workers only." And then what's this about cooking dead chickens and not eating raw eggs? Maybe the trade press can help:
Processors making products like mayonnaise, mousse and icing will be looking for a consumer reaction to the latest bird flu advice from the EU's food safety regulator, which yesterday called on consumers to avoid eating raw eggs.

EU poultry processors are already seeing big drops in consumer demand from the rising fear that the avian influenza virus will spread throughout the bloc. A panic is building as more and more EU members report incidents of the flu and authorities issue warnings.

The European Food Safety Authority yesterday said that Europeans should avoid eating raw eggs and cook chicken carefully as part of the precautions for ensuring that the virus does not infect humans.

The agency's experts said there was no evidence that the virus could be transmitted through food. However they warned the link could not be ruled out altogether. (Food Production Daily)
Yikes. They're waiting for me to tell them.

It seems the industry is walking on egg shells and the experts don't have the foggiest. Next story.