Monday, January 09, 2006

Turkeys on Turkey

Reports of human cases of bird flu continue to emanate from Turkey, but the situation is no clearer than yesterday. The three Ankara cases (a 60 year old man and two children, aged 2 and 5) as still being reported as "positive" for H5N1 by Turkish authorities. Their father gathered dead birds to turn them in to authorities and the children are said to have handled his gloves. If this is true, this seems like rather casual exposure, lending further weight to the concern that the disease is being transmitted more easily.Anxious parents overwhelmed understaffed clinics with children with flu-like symptoms. (via The Telegraph)

WHO's flu chief, KIaus Stohr, addressed this genuine problem by stating the non-obvious and the counter-intuitive:
"The risk has not changed," Klaus Stoehr, a senior WHO scientist on communicable diseases, told NDR radio.

"It seems that the epidemic has been spreading among animals in Turkey for much longer than believed," he added.

Stoehr said there was no indication that the virus could be passed on from one person to another.

He blamed insufficient health controls in Turkey, where three children died in the past week after coming into close contact with infected chickens, for the current outbreak. (AFP)
Let me state the obvious: this is pretty stupid, Klaus. You have no idea if the risk has changed or not. No one knows. You are just blowing smoke. But there is reasonable concern that the risk has indeed changed, either because the virus is moving more easily from bird to human or now from human to human. Maybe it will turn out that nothing has changed, but I wouldn't bet on it and I can't understand why you would say it, unless you wanted to blow whatever credibility you had left. If the truth is scary, it is at least the truth.

Meanwhile in Australia, another bird flu "expert" is also holding forth a "don't worry, be happy line."
An Australian bird flu expert says the new cases diagnosed in Turkey will not force Australia to change its risk assessment for the disease.
Five people tested positive to the deadly strain of the virus in the Turkish cities of Ankara and Van at the weekend.

President of the Australian Veterinary Poultry Alliance, Dr Peter Scott, says there is no immediate threat to Australia because our poultry handling practices are more tightly controlled than Turkey's.

"It's certainly of concern, but I think it must be kept in perspective," he said.

"The way we house our poultry, the way we operate our poultry, the way we feed and water our poultry, is distinctly very different.

"Our poultry are kept under very secure conditionsin sheds. We closely monitor the type of water they get, and we avoid feeding those birds contaminated feed or contaminated water. So our risk assessment here doesn't change with the episodes in Turkey." (Australian Broadcasting Company)
What a doofus. Excuse me. It's NOT ABOUT POULTRY. IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE!