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Monday, August 01, 2005

All Hell Breaking Loose?

In previous years - not in 2005 - China did report a few cases of avian flu in pigs. The virus is known to infect pigs and has been reported elsewhere in pigs this year. However, China is still claiming that the Sichuan disease is to to a bacterial infection in pigs (Streptococcus) and has nothing to do with bird flu. Now people are beginning to express their doubts. One of the reasons is that non-official reports from China (generally the more reliable kind) say that people are getting ill from eating other animals as well:
Pic 1: Yesterday, someone already died here. YunLong Street, Hu District, Huzhou City, Sichuan Province. Pic 2: I live in NingXiaShiZui Hill. People over at BaoFeng village are also falling ill after eating beef, mutton and pork. They developed blisters on their body and some other symptoms which I'm not sure about. I've heard that quite a few have died. However, authorities have covered this up, so not many people know about this.
The current case count is something like 198 with 36 deaths, but it is escalating rapidly, and health officials are beginning to go on the record as questioning the Chinese government's story:
China’s state-controlled media says the government has brought the disease under control, and that no human-to-human transmission of infection has been found. But there has been widespread criticism of the way the situation has been handled - with parallels being drawn to China’s handling of the SARS - severe acute respiratory syndrome - and bird flu outbreaks. The authorities knew of the first human cases on 24 June, but it only allowed the news out on 25 July. And China has banned local and foreign reporters from entering the region.
The reporters from Qinghai were arrested:
“It could be another disease altogether, it need not be Streptococcus suis because the presentation is so atypical,” Samson Wong, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, told Reuters. “In past literature, there have been one or two cases when people died within 36 hours, but those were exceptions rather than the rule. The deaths in China are very unusual.”

Wong also says many patients in Sichuan were bleeding under the skin, a symptom that has been cited in only two or three cases in medical literature on the infection – and that deafness, which is commonly found with the disease has been little mentioned in the outbreak. Experts quoted in other news reports have also said that the swine bacterium is an unlikely cause, with the symptoms, widespread geography of those affected and the speed of infection pointing to a viral infection.

Other experts question China’s denial of human-to-human spread. “The organism is carried on the pig’s tonsils and is spread pig-to-pig through nose rubbing or coughing. But it’s only found in small concentration on the pigs’ tonsils, so it’s difficult for a human to catch it that way,” says Jill Thompson from the UK’s Veterinary Investigation Centre in Edinburgh.
In the meantime, the birds are carrying the Qinghai strain of H5N1 to Europe. If bird flu is what is really causing the problems in China, the world is losing valuable time. Also see this odd report about viral eruptions in India. The bar-headed geese in China would have come from India, and there is ample evidence that India has had a significant H5N1 infection for some time. See this report claiming that they are covertly vaccinating their chickens for it:
Dr. Khan heard from his contacts in the Indian industry that avian influenza was widespread and that farmers were vaccinating their chickens to protect their investment. However, as the Indian poultry industry wanted to cover up the avian influenza outbreak, the avian influenza vaccines were combined with Newcastle (Ranikhet) disease vaccine and labelled simply as vaccines for Newcastle (Ranikhet) disease.

Dr. Khan managed to procure a few vials of Indian vaccines labeled as "Newcastle Disease Vaccine Inactivated I.P. Vet." and "Variant Ranikhet Disease Experimental Vaccine". He then conducted scientific trials with these vaccines. In one trial he administered the vaccine to 25 chickens (the trial group). 25 other chickens (the control group) were not vaccinated. Before vaccination, all 50 chickens tested negative for Avian Influenza antibodies. When the chickens were tested again 34 days after vaccination, the entire trial group was positive for avian flu antibodies, while the entire control group was still negative. The trial group also showed increased level of Newcastle (Ranikhet) Disease antibodies after vaccination. These trials were repeated and results were similar. This shows conclusively that the vaccines were in fact a combined vaccine against Avian Influenza and Newcastle (Ranikhet) Disease.
As this thing jumps around it just gets more opportunities to diversify. The Qinghai strain was extremely infectious by the unofficial accounts, and the reports from Russia are confirming those accounts. It's apparent that several countries have not wanted to hurt their chicken exports and have been quietly sitting on this story. Well, it's out and running now.

I'd like to say I'm glad you posted on this, but of course, I'm kidding.

This is like watching a plane crash in slow motion. I don't think people understand what a pandemic really means. The mortality statiscs you quote are frightening.

And the band played on.
Yes, a plane crash in slow motion does seem to be what we are seeing.

It is a very hard to believe that Streptococcus suis is the root cause of the pig-vectored illness. For one thing, even last week they were listing 155 different locations that had reported cases. A bacteria doesn't suddenly become virulent across a wide area like that.

Now, if the pigs were becoming ill from H5N1 or another disease, the Streptococcus S. might have burst out. But then there is the fact that they have blockaded Beijing and have only isolated Streptococcus from a minority of the samples.

The good part is that this bug doesn't seem to have become efficient at H2H transmission yet. But with all this new opportunity and the virulence of the Qinghai strain, it's hard to see how it won't within the next year.

So we have gone from a situation 2 months ago when we could see a milder strain that was H2H evolving in Vietnam to this virulent strain suddenly moving across large geographic areas. This is quite frightening. It will be moving out to areas where people have no exposure and no residual immunity.
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