Bird Flu Alarm

2005-10-25-Bird Flu's Human Toll Increases

Understanding Avian Influenza

2005-10-25-Bird Flu's Human Toll Increases

(AP) The human death toll from bird flu inched higher Tuesday as Indonesia reported its fourth fatal case, while officials said China's second outbreak of the virus in a week infected more than 2,000 geese and killed about 500 in the country's east.

Meanwhile, countries in the Asia Pacific region continued to increase precautionary measures against the potentially deadly pandemic experts say bird flu could cause, and fears continued to grow that the virus is spreading in Europe.

Dead wild geese in western Germany showed preliminary positive test results for a form of bird flu, a local health official said Tuesday, but they died from poisoning, not the virus.

Further tests would be needed to confirm the virus and to tell whether it was the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, said Stefan Brent, president of the bureau carrying out the testing at a press conference in Koblenz in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz.

Brent said that some 5 percent of wild birds could be expected to carry some form of bird flu, and called the results of the tests "no sensational find."

Investigators found evidence of rat poison in the stomachs of 12 of the 22 dead geese, he said, adding that preliminary tests showed the birds also had flu virus. But the likely cause of death was the poison, he said.

The latest Indonesian victim, a 23-year-old man from West Java, was hospitalized in late September and died two days later, said Hariadi Wibisono, a Ministry of Health official. A Hong Kong lab confirmed the test results on Monday.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in many parts of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing more than 60 people. Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds.

Bird flu sickened 2,100 geese in China's eastern province of Anhui and killed about a quarter of them, a U.N. official said Tuesday.

The Agriculture Ministry confirmed on Monday that the birds died of the H5N1 virus near Tianchang city, said Noureddin Mona, the China representative for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

A report to the World Organization for Animal Health said the outbreak was detected Oct. 20. It said 140,000 birds were vaccinated and that quarantines and other precautions were taken.

Mona said about 45,000 birds have been culled within a three-mile radius of the site.

Days earlier, another new outbreak of the disease was found in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia. Some 2,600 chickens and ducks were found dead at a breeding facility, sparking fears that humans were at risk of being sickened.

China has not reported any human infections.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said at a briefing Tuesday that China needed to "step up our efforts to study or do research on the vaccination" and strengthen cooperation with international health agencies like the World Health Organization.

Vietnamese state-controlled media reported Tuesday that the country, hardest hit by bird flu with more than 40 human deaths, is considering banning live poultry in all urban areas along with the sale of raw blood pudding ? a favored local dish ? made from ducks or geese.

Australia also said it would pump $2.25 million into Vietnamese efforts to fight the virus, saying experts have identified the country as a possible epicenter for a human pandemic if bird flu mutates and begins passing from human to human.

"To strengthen the preparedness and response capability of countries such as Vietnam is not only in Vietnam's interest, it's in the Asia-Pacific interest ? and that makes it in Australia's interest," Bruce Billson, Australia's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, told reporters in Hanoi.

Sri Lanka announced Tuesday it had temporarily banned imports of birds and poultry including feathers from bird flu-affected countries.

A nationwide survey had found no cases of bird flu, and the bans were a precaution, said S.K.R. Amarasekara, chief of the Animal Production and Health Department.

"We still can't say there is no threat. We are getting prepared for that," he said.

In Thailand, Public Health Ministry announced Tuesday that 400,000 health workers and 900,000 volunteers would fan out across the country to hunt for bird flu in 21 provinces. Chickens showing signs of the virus would be killed and people with symptoms sent for medical checks, it said.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization plans to launch a "military-like" campaign, including house-to-house searches for infected birds, to tackle bird flu in Indonesia, saying a similar move in Thailand was successful.

And Japan said it would send experts and medical equipment to Indonesia beginning Wednesday to assist with surveillance, laboratory diagnosis and clinical management.

Jakarta came under renewed criticism Tuesday for its response to the bird flu outbreak.

Chairul A. Nidom, the microbiologist who discovered the virus in Indonesian chickens, said he alerted the government in early 2004 but that it did not respond until after he published his findings in the country's best selling Kompas daily.

Within hours, the government held a media conference to say poultry stocks were infected with the virus.

"But even then, the government neglected to do anything. They waited until 2005 until the virus started attacking humans," Nidom said.

Sjamsul Bahri, Indonesia's director of national health, acknowledged the government had been slow, but denied the government had tried to hide the disease's appearance in Indonesia.

Birds in EU members Greece and Sweden have tested positive for bird flu, but not the deadly H5N1 strain, which has been found among birds in Romania, Turkey and Russia.

A parrot, imported from Suriname, died in quarantine in Britain over the weekend after contracting the H5N1 strain.

Last week, Germany ordered all poultry to be kept indoors in an effort to stem the spread of bird flu.

Understanding Avian Influenza