Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-27-More cases of bird flu reported in Europe

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-27-More cases of bird flu reported in Europe

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 the virus.

Although China reported two new cases of bird flu in humans yesterday, bringing to 14 the number of Chinese known to have been infected by the virus, World Health Organisation specialists stressed there is still no evidence of human to human transmission.

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, both seen as potential sources of any human pandemic.

Asked what the chances of a human pandemic were, Dr Perdue said that on a scale of one to 10 "maybe we're midway, around four or five. But the next question is, 'How long does it take to get to the number six?' These are very difficult questions to answer."

Since late 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. The WHO has confirmed 12 cases of human infection, with four deaths, in Turkey since it reported its first case in October.

But so far almost all cases of human infection appear to have come from contact with infected birds. The trigger for a potential human pandemic would come when a person infected with human flu also contracts bird flu, creating a new influenza virus capable of killing millions.

Countries are trying to minimise contact between poultry and humans, and when necessary slaughtering potentially infected chickens.

In Nigeria a million doses of flu vaccine made in Israel will be sent to poultry farmers this week. In the worst affected state of Kano more than 102,000 birds have died of the virus and 48,000 birds have been culled.

In France, where the Health Minister, Xavier Bertrand, has ordered 600 million face masks as a precaution, the Agriculture Ministry said on Sunday that 15 wild swans had died of the H5N1 virus near the Swiss border.

Switzerland also confirmed on Sunday its first case of avian flu in a duck found dead in the heart of Geneva, near the city's famous fountain Jet d'Eau.

Swiss officials said it was unclear whether the wild bird was infected with the H5N1 strain.

Understanding Avian Influenza