2005-10-13-Time To Worry?Understanding Avian Influenza
2005-10-13-Time To Worry?
(CBS/AP) The virulent strain of bird flu that's raising concerns of a global pandemic moved westward Thursday, as EU officials confirmed that poultry in Turkey had been infected with the same H5N1 strain that scientists worry might mutate into a human virus.
The Turkish government said it had contained the outbreak, which killed 1,800 turkeys in the small village of Kiziksa last week. Authorities have culled some 8,600 turkeys and chickens in the area and placed the village under quarantine.
The slow, steady drum beat of human bird flu deaths in Asia has infectious disease experts on alert, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.
With countries and pharmaceutical companies scrambling to produce vaccines, is it time to worry about bird flu?
A vaccine made from the exact strain of bird flu virus that is causing human deaths could be one of the world's only defenses.
So far trials show the vaccine will work. The question is whether we will be able to produce enough of it in a hurry in a worst case scenario.
"Right now the estimate would be that it would take about six to eight months to generate a large amount of vaccine," said Dr. John Treanor, who is running the vaccine trial. Treanor added that it is difficult to tell how fast the evolution of a pandemic might be.
Treanor's uncertainty has disaster preparedness experts like Dr. Irwin Redlener losing sleep.
"We are profoundly unprepared to manage a pandemic flu threat right now," said Redlener, who works at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
The government is just waking up to the potential for a bird flu disaster, Redlener said.
"We don't have hospital and medical facilities to take care of the anticipated number of patients and people who might get sick," he said.
That we may have a vaccine is one small piece of good news ? if the bird flu spares us this year.
"It might be that we have another five years before we have a pandemic," Treanor said. "It might be that a pandemic will arise next month. We just have no way of knowing that."
Turkish Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said authorities were on alert for any cases elsewhere in Turkey, which lies on the path of several migratory bird species.
"We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus," EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said in Brussels, Belgium. "There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China."
Elsewhere, experts confirmed that a strain of the bird flu virus has been found in samples taken from dead birds in Romania's Danube Delta, the agriculture minister said Thursday.
The samples are being sent to Britain to identify the specific strain. So far there are no indications it is the H5N1 strain.
"We hope it's a low intensity virus," said Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur. "We are continuing measures to isolate the affected area."
The Interior Ministry has extended a quarantine in the village of Ceamurlia de Jos, where the infected fowl was found, to people. Only authorities are allowed to enter and exit the remote village, which is located in the east of the delta, close to the Black Sea.
Officials in Romania were slaughtering thousands of birds there as a precaution. The bad news is that slaughter and disinfection are probably not enough to stop the spread of the virus, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports.
The H5N1 bird flu strain does not easily infect humans, but 117 people, mostly poultry workers, have caught it over the last two years and 60 of them have died. Scientists are tracking the spread of the virus in birds because it could mutate into a dangerous human pandemic strain.
Turkish authorities believe the turkeys contracted the disease from migratory birds that pass through the Manyas Bird Sanctuary just outside of the village on their way to Africa from the Ural mountains in Russia.
Turkish paramilitary police set up three checkpoints outside the village, the first eight miles away. Police there stopped cars, asking people what they had inside.
At a second checkpoint, a paramilitary policeman searched cars and warned people entering the village not to carry "any winged animals out of here and don't touch them."
A third checkpoint was right at the perimeter of the village, but cars were not stopped.
Kyprianou said the European Commission was proposing to set aside $1.2 billion to help make and distribute anti-virals and vaccines "in case of a pandemic."
He advised EU countries to administer the standard flu vaccine to vulnerable populations: people over age 65, young children, those with weakened immune systems or chronic respiratory conditions and those living near the outbreak sites. There is no vaccine to protect against bird flu, but experts believe the standard flu vaccine could help.
Kyprianou urged EU nations to stockpile anti-viral drugs, saying: "It's the first line of defense."
Turkish authorities killed 7,600 domestic birds and disinfected 12 acres of land in the affected area, after 1,800 birds died on a farm there last week.
Turkey has asked the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG for 1 million boxes of a standard flu medicine as a precaution, said a Health Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the press. Each box contains 10 capsules.