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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bird Flu News Roundup

I would say that the major news of the last month occurred when a commercial farm in Saxony, Germany came up positive for H5N1 last week. Wermsdorf is near Leipzipg What got most of the news play was that a swan in Scotland tested positive, but that is merely the first observation of something that everyone knew had to be true anyway.

The infection on the farm in Wermsdorf was found in turkeys, but there are several very important facts:
1) The turkeys were completely under cover.
2) The birds on this farm had been tested just two weeks ago and did not show any antibodies.
3) There had been no reports of H5N1 in wild birds in the area.
4) The farm itself is located by a lake with tons of wild birds in the area.

In other words, they don't know how it got in and they aren't sure where it was in the first place, but it did appear inside a facility which was considered to be biosecure. Some of the German experts are speculating that it may have been brought in by cats. I vote for the rodents. I found this map of flu/acute respiratory illness in Germany very interesting. If you click on the link called "Animierte Kartendarstellung der Saison 2005-06" below the graphic you will get an animated map of the season in Germany, and you will note that it is only in the last few weeks that there has been much activity.

The news about the H5N1 outbreak in a commercial farm in Germany seems to bring into question the entire European plan against H5N1, and indeed the entire North American plan. Needless to say, no one wants to discuss the implications. The silence is deafening, and reminds me very much of Tommy's summary of bird flu news. We will hear a tremendous amount about swans and dodos, but nothing about the actual facts, which are that the odds of you eating turkey next Thanksgiving are slim to none. But do not worry!

WHO took the very bold and forward-looking step of deciding to establish WHEN. What is WHEN, you ask? A think tank to develop potential bird flu solutions? A conference of the world's virologists attempting to predict the next area to be contaminated? Naaaaaaw. WHEN is going to be the World Health Editor Network. I kid you not. The theory seems to be that since the news is uniformly negative, the right thing to do is to control the news. It may be that WHO is irked by the irresponsibility of the general public in calling this "bird flu", even though WHO has not yet released the official, WHO-approved name.

So do not worry. WHEN will tell you when to worry, okay? They will go into operation just as soon as they can establish basic groundwork for WHAT ethical principles will guide WHEN, and that will happen as soon as they figure out HOW to keep these very important principles secure (although not biosecure) from the irresponsible public. Word has it they are going to gather at some conference center somewhere and drink for a while to get this off to a running start. I am sure the US is planning to contribute for the bar bill as long as no one asks us to release the results of last year's surveillance testing done in Alaska. So far, the US authorities have made the bold step of saying that no highly pathogenic H5N1 was found in Alaska last year. They do not say that no H5 was found, and we know it was because it was found in Canada. They do not say that no H5N1 was found. They do say that no "highly pathogenic H5N1" was found. DO NOT WORRY!

In other news, a Chinese official announced that the high-risk time for bird flu was over. This did not reassure Boxun readers, who have been treated to a series of articles noting that villagers are complaining because not only are their birds dying, they can't even get anyone to come out and test them. Perhaps all the Chinese health officials are busy working on the founding of WHEN.

In Africa, H5N1 was confirmed in birds at a motel in Burkina Faso. This sounds good, unless you have been following along and you know that it took almost exactly a month before the testing was actually completed after the motel owner reported the sick birds. And in Nigeria, H5N1 has popped up in the outskirts of Lagos, which is a huge city. One suspects that the WHO bar bill alone could do a lot of good if allocated to disease control in Africa.

The case count in Egypt is probably 11 human cases with 3 deaths. There have been reports of cattle dying from FMD, which is par for the course in areas infected with the Qinghai strain of bird flu. The authorities are working hard to contain it, but seem to be having very little success. The news from Azerbaijan is highly equivocal; they have sent 43 human blood samples to England for testing. Only God knows what is happening in India, but there are many reports of animals dying aside from birds.

To read Boxun do this. Go to http://www.worldlingo.com/en/websites/url_translator.html. Type in www.boxun.com and select translate from Chinese simplified to English. When the website comes up, scroll down on the side to Abundant News Hot Spot and select bird flu. In a month or two the same northwards migration that resulted in the massive die-off at Qinghai will happen again, and this may be the first opportunity we really get to see what bird flu has been doing in India. Boxun is unofficial news but I have been reading it for a year and it seems honest.

China seems to have set up a complete system whereby there is a separate screening for all people with fevers outside the main hospital. This is in the cities. According to unofficial reports, the country is on its own. Guangxi is reported to have a lot of birds dying, and Vietnam complained that sick birds are being smuggled into Vietnam from China.

Curious what your predictions on the epidepic are for the US.
epidemic - d'oh!
Well, since the first recorded human case in Indonesia (July of 2005), the same puzzling pattern has persisted. Their bird flu cases don't seem very associated with bird exposures and they are clustered.

I don't know how the disease is spreading there, but for most of year it has been clearly spreading through some vector that doesn't include birds. No one knows what that vector is.

It's hard not to believe that a human epidemic will result. One of the mutations for that epidemic was found in a human outbreak in 1997 and again in Turkey last fall.

Also, the CDC's Mortality report is showing a pattern on the west coast that has historically preceded flu epidemics. In another two weeks we will know for sure.

On the other hand, I think there is a decent chance that the epidemic may be a strain of flu like H3N2 that has picked up some gene fragments from H5N1, and so may not be as dire as many predict.

But within two years I think the odds are high that there will be a pretty severe strain of human flu sweeping across the world.
If you needed a reminder for how self-involved I am, here it is: My next step in preparation is to buy my Thanksgiving turkey. I'm not kidding. You know how some people are about Christmas? That's me about Thanksgiving.

But enough about me. . .

Thanks for interpreting the news.
Carson, I eat turkey all the time. I have been brooding about this, and I don't think my freezer is safe to hold a turkey for all those months.

I love Thanksgiving too.
I'm going to find out how long a turkey will last in a freezer. And I'm buying mine ahead of time. I have a freezer in the basement, and I've got room. I'll buy yours if you tell me the size you want. (As far as I'm concerned, anything less than 20 pounds isn't worth preheating the oven!)
Well, I'm considering a freezer.

I really do eat turkey all the time. Good protein. I was casting an evil eye at the geese, though....
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