Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lots of places plus Indonesia

The reports of H5N1 infectedwild birds (mainly swans) in new countries are coming almost too fast to keep track of. Denmark is the latest (confirmation pending), but we can add Hungary and Dagestan (Russian Federation north of the Caucasus), too.

Meanwhile the Iraqis are desperately trying to cordon off poultry traffic in Maysan province, using the military for the purpose (as if they don't have anything else to do).
Dr. Ibtisam Aziz Ali, spokeswoman of a government committee dealing with the bird flu crisis, said Health Minister Abdel Mutalib Mohammed declared the alert after birds suspected of having avian influenza were discovered in at least five of parts of Maysan province, which borders Iran and lies on a major trade route between Basra and Baghdad.

Maysan includes some of Iraq's famous marshlands, and U.S. and United Nations officials fear that the deadly disease could spread rapidly if it reaches the area rich in bird life.

Late Tuesday, Mohammed met in Amarah, 290 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, with local health authorities and tribal sheiks to brief them on the bird flu threat and government measures to combat it.
The minister said he has to "totally close" Maysan using Iraqi soldiers and police and carry out culling of poultry.

"The disease has apparently spread among local birds, not migratory birds," said Mohammed. "I have seen five centres where infections have been detected by rapid laboratory testing. Now we have declared a state of health alert." (cnews; our emphasis)
The Europeans are quaking in their boots, too, locking up or planning to lock up their chickens in an effort to keep them away from migratory birds they fear carry the virus (Reuters). The poultry industry has already taken a hit, with sales plummeting. The European Commission's Standing Committee on the Food and Chain and Animal Heath met yesterday and today to discuss coordination of national measures (Reuters).

But the place I find most worrisome is Indonesia. Human disease continues to bubble away there, and the bubbles are coming faster and are more numerous now.
Humans are contracting the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus at a faster pace, causing more deaths, Agriculture Minister Anton Apriantono told reporters in Jakarta before attending a cabinet meeting on bird flu, without elaborating.

"We will step up preventive efforts, be more proactive,'' Apriantono said. "We will do checking even on areas that haven't seen any cases of dead poultry. Information dissemination about bird flu will be stepped up.''

Indonesia has the second-highest number of bird flu cases among humans in the world. The H5N1 virus has killed at least 18 people of the 25 people it has infected in the Southeast Asian nation. Health authorities say they are concerned the virus will mutate into a form easily transmitted among humans, causing a deadly global pandemic. The country's suspected sixth cluster of human infections, in two adults and their two-year-old daughter, has heightened concerns.

The government plans to start searching Jakarta homes starting next week, Apriantono said. The government will cull diseased poultry in a 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) radius and vaccinate fowl within a 3 kilometer radius.

"We have the highest cluster of the disease in the world'' among humans, said Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari. "And the higher the cluster the higher possibility of human-to- human'' infection. (Bloomberg)
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. Many people live close to poultry in their back yards. The birds are a source of protein but also highly prized as pets and companion animals. H5N1 is now endemic in Indonesian poultry and perhaps swine.

I'm not in the guessing game here. Too many things we don't understand about this virus.

But if I were going to guess (which I'm not), this is where I'd say it will start.