Thursday, February 23, 2006

The expected

Austria is recording the first EU cases of bird flu in chickens. Until now the seven EU countries affected have found the virus in wild birds. The Austrian chickens are not on a commercial poultry operation but in an animal refuge and are being characterized as "an isolated case" by the Austrian Health Ministry. The source of infection is supposedly a lost swan brought to the Noah's Ark animal pound in Graz earlier in the month. Three ducks also died there from the virus. There are 200 dogs and 300 cats at Noah's Ark in a separate building. While Austria has an emergency plan, instituted after wild swans were discovered February 14, the swan came to the refuge four days before these measures were put into effect. This is another example of the difficulty of containing a disease that is infectious before symptoms are manifest. Hungary, Bosnia, Croatia and Malaysia are also reporting more infected birds.

But the nastiest stories today are coming from India, where the disease is continuing to spread. The nasty part is the allegation that one or more major poultry producers there covered-up a mass die off of their birds almost a month ago, paying locals to bury dead chickens. No notifications were made to authorities, required, even if, as the companies now claim, they thought the birds died of Newcastle Disease, not bird flu. India's egg producer trade association is still denying bird flu is in India. But according to the Agriculture Ministry there is no ambiguity in the test results. The disease is H5N1, not Newcastle Disease. (TV Padma via SciDev.Net)

The probable cover-up is just the kind of event that we would expect. As authorities start to quarantine whole villages and areas, as India is doing in some places, the natural consequence will be to conceal the presence of the disease. Efforts should be put into getting ready for what will happen next, not shutting the chicken coop after the birds have scuttled.