Thursday, January 19, 2006

Iraq bird flu "all clear" is cloudy

Here's the scenario. A 14 year old girl lives in Kurdish Iraq near the Turkish border next to a lake that is a stopping place for migratory birds and some of the chickens her family kept in the house died. She was admitted to the hospital in Sulaimaniya with a severe lung infection after a two week illness and died the next day.

Bird flu? Authorities are now saying, no, after tests carried out by Irasqi health authorities were negative.
A group of Jordanian doctors arrived at Sulaimaniya hospital to help conduct further tests. But Dr Najmuddin, head of the Sulaimaniya health department, said there had been no cases of bird flu found, either in humans or birds. referring to Tijan, Dr Najmuddin said: "After she arrived at the hospital and after she was tested, symptoms were discovered that indicated that it wasn't bird flu. Then the veterinary division confirmed that they had tested lots of chickens and birds in the area where the incident took place, and there were no cases of bird flu."

Iraqi doctors are already overwhelmed by victims of insurgent suicide bombings and shootings. Iraq has been trying to secure porous borders with its neighbors, particularly Syria, since 2003 to stop the flow of foreign insurgents but with little success. Tribes living along border areas also make a living from smuggling goods.

Health officials say they need more money and expertise (Reuters)
WHO is also saying it is not H5N1, but dosn't say on what basis:
"It has been investigated and discounted. It is not an H5N1 (bird flu) case," spokesman Dick Thompson told Reuters.
The dismissal of bird flu seems to be based on three things: the claim that no birds in the vicinity tested positive for the virus; that the victim developed symptoms the doctors didn't think were typical of bird flu; and some kind of test was negative. We now have enough experience with this disease to know that none of these things singly or collectively are sufficient to rule out H5N1 infection, especially in view of the medical and environmental history. Samples are supposedly being sent to the UK WHO reference laboratory for confirmation, but there is no information yet as to the results or even if the samples actually got there.

Human cases of bird flu in a war-torn country with no effective medical or civil infrastructure and overwhelming needs is a classically fertile ground for epidemic disease. There are also 160,000 foreign troops there. Because the safety and security of US troops in Iraq is a sensitive political topic for a beleagured President Bush, the appearance of bird flu could have an unpredictable effect on American public confidence and might further shake already shaky support for the war. Given the striking medical scenario, the limited ability of the area doctors to confirm or disconfirm the diagnosis and the political domestic political dimensions, I will confess I am not completely confident this isn't a cover-up by virtue of a weak an insincere investigation.

So pardon me for not believing the "all clear" signal yet. Convince me. Give me the results from the UK reference lab.