Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bird flu iceberg

There seems to be a lot of bird flu reports in the last day or two. It is hard to say if these are new occurrences or the general climate is now more permissive to admitting a problem. But it is not just birds.

Vietnam: 400 dead ducks in southern Bac Lieu province, where almost 40% of its estimated 1.1 million fowl were vaccinated in recent months. The government claims to have vaccinated 56 million out of a targeted 156 million poultry already. Maybe.

Vaccination is controversial because there is some concern that while it prevents the animals from getting sick, it may not prevent them from becoming infected and shedding virus and their immune status prevents easy identification of infection. Vietnam has killed an estimated 50 million birds since the resurgence of the virus in 2003.

Malaysia (AFP): A fresh outbreak in Kelantan state, near the Thai border, has been reported. 1200 cickens and ducks within a one km circle of the village of Belian were culled and house-tohouse checks of residents are being conducted. Over 800 people were screened, seven sent to the hospital for checks (all discharged). But a 10 year old boy with fever and cough and a woman from the veterinary department with diarrhea and fever remain hospitalized, according to AFP. Officials are blaming fighting cokcs from Thailand for the outbreak, which is a blow to Malaysia's resurgent poultry industry.

China (AP): 2600 dead birds in northern China's grasslands in Inner Mongolia, according to the government. "The epidemic is under control," Xinhua [News agency] said. Right. And the check is in the mail and I'll respect you in the morning.

Russia: this time just south of Moscow (Tula region), the first (reported) instance in European (west of the Urals) Russia. The EU is concerned that this is a "second front" (on the north), with a long border with Finland, Estonia and Latvia in eastern Europe and the Baltic area.

Indonesia: Forget about the birds and the swine, where the virus is solidly entrenched. It is the humans that keep getting sick here. From Antara News Service:
"We have received a report from the RSPI hospital`s director that the hospital had received two new patients - a father and his son - with symptoms of bird flue," Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said after breaking the fast with her ministry officials at her residence.

The two patients had been transferred by the Hajj Hospital in East Jakarta to the RSPI Sulianti Saroso hospital after showing bird flu symptoms such as high fever, breathing problems, headache, and a sore throat.
Today a new family cluster is also being reported, a father and his infant son, admitted to the hospital yesterday. No other details as yet, but person to person spread is suspected.

Thailand, too, is reporting a new death, its 13th. The only information available at the moment is that it was a farmer who had contact with sick chickens.

Then there is India, where the government declares no bird flu at all in south Asia or India in particular. Yeah, right.

More likely this:
British scientists travelling to Asia to inspect the spread of bird flu said the number of cases reported in humans could be only "the tip of the iceberg".

Just 120 cases - which have led to around 60 deaths - have been confirmed since 2003, but as the avian flu spreads from Asia to Europe, the concern about the possible infection of humans has grown.

Sir John Skehel, director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) National Institute for Medical Research, said part of the reason for making the trip was to look at the way the disease was being monitored in other countries.

Speaking at the MRC in central London, he said: "How are people checking in the Far East for people who have recovered from the infection? Are the total number of people who have been infected the tip of the iceberg and, beneath them, are there are a lot of others who have been infected? It is an important question." (The Guardian)
Tip of the iceberg, indeed.

Correction (10/20/05, 9:55 pm EDST): An alert reader has caught a serious error in this post. The reported cases in Malaysia are not recent, but from a year ago. No cases are currently being reported from Malaysia. We apologize for this oversight. We try to be careful, but it was early in the morning (hat tip Jeremy).