Bird Flu Alarm

2006-01-12-WHO warns on bird flu pandemic risk

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-01-12-WHO warns on bird flu pandemic risk


By Paul de Bendern and Gareth Jones
Thu Jan 12, 11:55 AM ET


ANKARA (Reuters) - Doctors in Turkey treated two young children for deadly bird flu on Thursday as a top World Health Organization (WHO) official warned that the threat of an influenza pandemic was growing daily.

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The H5N1 virus has been found in wild birds and poultry across large parts of Turkey, particularly in poor villages stretching from Istanbul at the gates of Europe to Van near the Iranian and Iraqi borders.

The Health Ministry said tests showed that the virus was in the lungs of a third Turkish child who died last week, the sister of two dead teenagers confirmed as bird flu victims.

Indonesia reported the death on Thursday of a 29-year-old woman who had tested positive for bird flu.

Shigeru Omi, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, said Asia remained the epicenter of the threat to global health but that a pandemic was not inevitable if countries and health bodies responded quickly.

"As the new cases of human infection with the H5N1 virus in Turkey show, the situation is worsening with each passing month and the threat of an influenza pandemic is continuing to grow every day," he told a two-day meeting of Asian countries and international organizations on bird flu in Tokyo.

Experts say the H5N1 virus could become more active in the colder months in affected regions, and spread in east Asia as people slaughter chickens for Lunar New Year celebrations.

The more it becomes entrenched in poultry flocks, the greater the risk that more humans will become infected. So far, the virus is reported to have infected about 150 people, killing at least 78 in six countries.

While it remains essentially a disease in birds, scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that could spread easily between humans, causing a pandemic in which millions could die.

YOUNG VICTIMS

While there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission in Turkey, the large and rapid rise in the number of cases has worried experts.

The two latest confirmed patients were a one-year-old girl and a boy aged four. Both were from southeastern Turkey and reported to be in a stable condition.

Turkey said it now had seen 18 people infected with the virus, including the three children who died. It had previously reported 15 cases.

The virus has infected several children who are believed to have contracted it by close contact with infected birds.

Health experts are studying the outbreak for clues as to how to combat the virus. The mortality rate in Turkey is lower than in east Asia where around one in every two patients has died.

David Nabarro, senior coordinator for avian influenza at the United Nations, said it would cost donors about $1.4 billion to finance the next phase of the global campaign against the virus. This included gearing up veterinary services and preparing expert teams for quick deployment to outbreaks.

He was confident delegates to a bird flu conference in Beijing next week would pledge the needed amount.

FIGHTING THE VIRUS

The Turkish authorities have killed more than 350,000 birds in the past two weeks. A 3-km (2-mile) quarantine zone has been set up around infected areas, and information broadcast via television commercials and vans fitted with loudspeakers.

A WHO conference in Brazzaville was told that a shortage of money and scientific know-how could leave Africa struggling to detect and combat bird flu if it arrived there.

European countries are raising their guard against the further spread of the virus.

The Dutch government wants to vaccinate its huge poultry population against bird flu, the farm ministry said on Thursday.

Bird flu experts recommend preventive vaccination to be considered seriously in the small and densely populated Netherlands which has around 90 million poultry.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Van, Irwin Arieff in New York, George Nishiyama in Tokyo, Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong, Ade Rina in Jakarta, Anna Mudeva in Amsterdam and Christian Tsoumou in Brazzaville)

Understanding Avian Influenza