Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Milestones and stonewalls

Someday we may look back wistfully on the day the death toll from bird flu reached only 100, but at any rate, today's the day, the future being what it will be.

The melancholy figure was attained when it was announced (Reuters) that three young women from Azerbaijan had died of bird flu (confirmation still pending but expected). The presumptive diagnosis was done by a competent US Naval mobile laboratory on loan from its base in Cairo. Official confirmation from a WHO reference lab would seem to be a formality. Two of the cases were from the same region, the other from a different locale. Contact with infected birds is being blamed, but no details were available. Lab reports from a suspected cluster of six other related patients have not yet been announced. Azerbaijan is at the junction between Europe and Asia and lies along major migratory bird flyways. I would speculate it has had infected birds for some time but they have only now been detected.

Meanwhile the Indian government has announced that tests from birds sent to a laboratory on February 27 have come back positive for H5N1 and control measures are now being instituted. Yes, let me repeat that date: February 27. Almost three weeks ago. But for some in authority, bird flu is not a big deal. Here's what the Agriculture Minister told the newspapers (and apparently the Prime Minister) the day before (hat tip, CW):
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday [March 13 2006] chaired a high-level meeting to review bird flu situation.

At the meeting, various rehabilitation packages for poultry farmers in the affected areas of Maharashtra and Gujarat were also discussed.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar briefed the Prime Minister about the cleaning-up operations and indicated that the bird flu has successfully been contained.


The minister also highlighted that the bird flu issue was blown out of proportion, which ultimately turned out to be a localised event. (Hindustani Times)
Here's what another newspaper said the next day (yesterday):
The Indian government on Tuesday confirmed bird flu cases in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, weeks after the country's first case of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza was found in another district of the state.

Some samples of dead birds sent last month to a laboratory in Bhopal from four villages in the Jalgaon district have tested positive for the global disease that has killed nearly 100 people in Southeast Asia, mainly in Vietnam.

State government officials said a team of experts and doctors had been sent to the affected villages to prevent the spread of the virus. Over 75,000 birds are likely to be culled in the four villages. (Times of India)
This gives new meaning to the word "prevent." It now covers actions you should have taken but no longer can. Thought I'd mention that.