2006-03-08-Bird Flu to Hit USUnderstanding Avian Influenza
2006-03-08-Bird Flu to Hit US
Avian flu is likely to spread to birds in the U.S. within six months and could produce an epidemic among humans ``at any time,'' said the United Nations official who monitors global efforts to fight the disease.
David Nabarro told reporters in New York today that wild birds migrating over the Arctic Circle from Africa and Europe this spring would carry the H5N1 virus to Alaska, and that avian flu would probably reach America's lower 48 states six months later. This is the first time a top global health official has predicted when birds carrying the flu will arrive in the U.S.
``Every country in the world now needs to have its veterinary services on high alert for H5N1 to be sure they are not caught unawares,'' said Nabarro, a physician with the World Health Organization who is senior UN system coordinator for Avian and human influenza.
The flu strain, which has spread across Asia, Africa and Europe, is currently raging through poultry farms in Nigeria, the most populous nation on a continent ravaged by poverty and HIV/AIDS. Health authorities are concerned that the virus is taking root in Africa, where it threatens to infect humans, as it has in Asia and the Middle East, and possibly mutate into a deadly pandemic form.
Avian flu infected at least 31 people in the first two months of this year, killing 20 of them, according to the Geneva-based WHO. That's twice as many cases and fatalities reported compared with the same two months of 2005. The virus has killed at least 96 of 175 people infected since late 2003.
`Sooner or Later'
``There will be a pandemic sooner or later,'' Nabarro said during a news conference today at the UN. ``It could start any time. We have a virus capable of replicating inside humans. We have a virus that humans are not resistant to. We have a virus about which we don't understand everything. It is at this stage of a pandemic alert that we have the luxury of being able to be prepared.''
U.S. Health Secretary Michael Leavitt told a Senate committee March 1 that the H5N1 virus might spread to the U.S. ``soon.'' The virus' appearance is ``just a matter of time; it may be very soon,'' he said in his testimony.
The Nigerian government this week began distributing compensation payments to farmers affected by the virus, which has spread in the past two months to almost a third of the country's 36 states. International aid organizations are counting on the payments to spur more culling and to help stem the trade of infected poultry.
Containing avian outbreaks in oil-rich Nigeria's Delta region, on the Atlantic coast, may be complicated by kidnappings and attacks that forced Royal Dutch Shell Plc's Nigerian joint venture to halt crude oil output of 455,000 barrels a day, about a fifth of Nigeria's daily production.
There have been no reported human cases of avian influenza in Nigeria, the government said.
Albania reported its first case of bird flu in domesticated poultry, the World Organization for Animal Health said. All 60 infected birds died from the H5N1 virus in the village of Cuke in Vlore state, the group said in a statement.
Germany's Federal Research Institute for Animal Health said today it had confirmed the H5N1 virus in two more cats on the northern island of Ruegen. The cats came from Schaprode in the west of the island, close to where the first case of bird flu in a cat was reported last week, the institute said in an e-mailed statement. The German government has ordered cat owners in areas affected by bird flu to keep their pets indoors.
The U.S. government plans to test almost eight times as many wild birds this year as in the past decade to protect against the spread of bird flu, USA Today said, citing the Agriculture Department. Starting in April, samples from as many as 100,000 birds will be tested, mainly in Alaska, the newspaper said.