Bird Flu Alarm

2006-03-13-Avian Flu Found in Birds in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Cameroon

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-03-13-Avian Flu Found in Birds in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Cameroon

Bird flu was found in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Cameroon, bringing to 26 the number of countries reporting initial outbreaks of the lethal virus this year.

An H5 subtype of the avian influenza virus was reported in birds in Afghanistan and Myanmar, Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said today. The H5N1 strain was reported over the weekend in a farmed duck in northern Cameroon.

``The disease is spreading because of trade, but originally most probably because of wild'' migratory birds, Domenech said by phone from Rome. ``We hope to know the cause later, but now we have to support the countries as much possible'' in controlling the movement of infected birds, he said.

The rate of human infections from the H5N1 avian influenza strain is increasing as birds carry the virus to more parts of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Twenty-three countries have confirmed initial outbreaks since February, doubling the number of affected nations worldwide since the H5N1 strain was first isolated in a goose in southern China almost a decade ago.

The spreading H5N1 strain in birds increases the risk of human infection and creates more opportunity for the virus to mutate into a pandemic form capable of killing millions of people. The virus has so far killed at least 97 of 176 people infected since late 2003.

The number of new outbreaks in poultry reported to the World Organization for Animal Health reached more than 60 in the week ending March 9, boosted by more infections on farms in Nigeria and Romania. Thirty-one new outbreaks were reported the previous week, according to data kept by the Paris-based organization.

Afghanistan

Three avian-flu infections were detected in Afghanistan's capital Kabul and two in the eastern province of Nangarhar, Agence France-Presse reported, citing agriculture ministry spokesman Azizullah Osmani.

In Myanmar, veterinary officials reported avian flu killed at least 112 fowl on farms in the country formerly known as Burma, said Laurence Gleeson, a senior animal health officer with the FAO in Bangkok.

``The tests which they have reported to us indicate that they have an H5 subtype that's killing chickens,'' Gleeson said over the phone. Further testing will probably show the chickens died from the H5N1 avian-flu strain, he said.

Officials from the ministries of livestock and forestry and health are undertaking surveillance and culling on the poultry farms where fowl died last week, said Adik Wibowo, the World Health Organization's representative in Myanmar. Samples were sent to Australia and Bangkok for testing, she said.

Suspected infections were found in chickens in the administrative division of Amarapura, and three towns in Sagaing division, Wibowo said in a phone interview from Yangon today. ``There have been no human cases,'' she said.

Military Junta

Myanmar is ruled by a military junta, and borders China, Thailand and Laos, where bird flu outbreaks have already occurred. ``The government is being very cooperative,'' Wibowo said.

In Cameroon, results of tests on birds taken from the town of Maroua were positive for the H5N1 strain, AFP reported on March 11.

``Why we are seeing more and more outbreaks is because of better reporting'' by affected countries, said Frederick Leung, associate professor of zoology at the University of Hong Kong.

In Indonesia, where at least 22 people have died from H5N1 infections since July, doctors are awaiting tests results from a local laboratory on samples from two patients hospitalized yesterday, Hariadi Wibisono, director of vector-borne disease control at the Health Ministry, said in a phone interview today.

Romania

Romanian officials imposed a partial quarantine on Cernavoda, a town of 20,000 people near the Danube river, after detecting avian flu in five hens there yesterday, Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur said today in an interview with Romania's Realitatea television.

Through traffic will be permitted although no cars will be allowed to stop in Cernavoda as authorities slaughter the town's 13,500 domestic birds, newswire Mediafax reported. Cernavoda, home to a nuclear reactor, is near the highway connecting Bucharest, the capital, with Constanza, the biggest city on the Black Sea coast. Further tests are needed to determine whether the virus in Cernavoda is the H5N1 strain, Mediafax said.

Poland's agriculture ministry today reported a dead bird found in Swinoujscie, north-west Poland, was infected with the lethal strain of bird flu, fifth case of H5N1 in the country. Samples of 31 other birds from Swinoujscie were sent for testing to a Polish veterinary institute based in Pulawy, daily Gazeta Wyborcza said today.

In Torun, the first Polish city to report infected birds on March 5, authorities found two more dead swans, Gazeta reported. Three birds, found March 3 and March 4, have been confirmed as having the H5N1 strain, as has a goose found in Kostrzyn, the paper said.

Doctors and medical equipment are expected to arrive today in the west Asian nation of Azerbaijan, where house-to-house searches for bird flu found at least three possible human cases, two of them fatal.

A WHO team in Azerbaijan providing local health officials with technical support will receive additional supplies and expertise, including laboratory equipment and diagnostic reagents, the United Nations' agency said in a statement on March 10.

A 20-year-old woman who died on March 3 ``following rapidly progressive acute pneumonia,'' a 17-year-old girl who died five days later and 16-year-old boy in critical condition in a hospital are among those being investigated in the former Soviet republic, the WHO said.

Understanding Avian Influenza