Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-27-Bird flu spreads amid pandemic fears

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-27-Bird flu spreads amid pandemic fears

BIRD flu continues to spread, with 14 European countries as well as Egypt, India, Nigeria and Iraq reporting poultry or wild birds that have been infected by avian influenza.

The confirmation of the H5N1 strain of the virus at a commercial farm in the EU has thrown France's $A10 billion poultry industry into chaos. Daniel Clair was forced to destroy 11,000 turkeys at his farm in the Ain region of south-east France. "I found 400 bodies and the others were already very sick," he told Le Parisien newspaper. "It struck like lightning."

But although China reported two new cases of bird flu in humans yesterday, World Health Organisation specialists stressed there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

Dr Michael Perdue of the WHO's Global Influenza Program said he was encouraged by the absence of new cases of human infection this year in Vietnam and Thailand.

Asked about the chances of a human pandemic, Dr Perdue said that on a scale of 1 to 10 "maybe we're midway, around 4 or 5 but the next question is, 'How long does it take to get to the number 6?' These are very difficult questions to answer."

Since 2003, 92 people have died, mainly in China and South-East Asia, of the 170 people known to have been infected with the H5N1 avian influenza strain, which is lethal to birds. The WHO has confirmed 12 cases of human infection, with four deaths, in Turkey.

Almost all cases of human infection appear to have come from contact with infected birds. The trigger for a human pandemic would come when a person infected with human flu also contracted bird flu, creating a new virus capable of killing millions. That is why countries are trying to minimise contact between poultry and humans, and slaughtering potentially infected birds.

The French Agriculture Ministry said on Sunday that 15 wild swans had died of the H5N1 virus near the Swiss border.

A million doses of flu vaccine will be sent to Nigerian poultry farmers this week, Auwalu Haruna, secretary of the Poultry Association of Nigeria said. In Kano, Nigeria's worst-affected state, more than 102,000 birds have died of the virus and 48,000 have been culled.

So far, Britain is taking a more relaxed stand. But the six ravens at the Tower of London have been taken indoors, potentially triggering an old prophecy that when the ravens leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall.

Understanding Avian Influenza