Friday, December 09, 2005

News - More Human Flu in China

China has announced a fifth human case of bird flu, as early results showed the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus was present in Ukraine.

Xinhua news agency said a 31-year-old female farmer fell ill with pneumonia-like symptoms after contact with dead birds in the northern Liaoning province, where there has been an outbreak of the disease among birds.

"The Ministry of Health reported on December 8 that a pneumonia case of unknown reason in Heishan county, Liaoning province, has been confirmed as deadly H5N1 bird flu," Xinhua said.

Following treatment at a hospital, the woman recovered and was discharged on November 29.

There have been two deaths among China's other four bird flu cases. A 10-year-old girl is currently undergoing emergency treatment for the disease in the southern region of Guangxi after falling ill on November 23.

It was unclear how she contracted the virus and investigations were ongoing.

The lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu has claimed almost 70 human lives in Asia since late 2003.

Thirty H5N1 outbreaks among birds have been confirmed across China this year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Wednesday that more outbreaks were likely in China over the next few weeks.

China is seen as a potential flashpoint for a feared global pandemic because it has the world's biggest poultry population and is on three major global routes taken by migratory birds.

Ukraine tests

The lethal H5N1 strain is suspected in poultry that died en mass in the northeast corner of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last week, according to preliminary test results.

Ukraine's former chief veterinary inspector, Pyotr Verbitsky, said preliminary results from a Russian lab showed the presence of H5N1.

"But the tests continue and tomorrow it will be known for certain," Interfax quoted Dr Verbitsky as saying.

President Viktor Yushchenko fired the chief vet this week for what he said was un-preparedness for a bird flu outbreak.

Mr Yushchenko declared a state of emergency in the affected areas of Ukraine's southern peninsula in the Black Sea and the villages where the H5 virus has
been confirmed have been placed under quarantine.

The poultry is thought to have contracted the virus from wild birds, millions of which use the nearby Sivash saltwater lake as either a wintering site or a stopover point on their winter migration route.

In Asia meanwhile, North Korea was to begin quarantining people with high fevers because of concerns over a possible bird flu outbreak, a South Korean news report said.

Pyongyang would step up quarantines to check airline attendants and sailors coming from overseas for symptoms of bird flu.

North Korea has reported no outbreaks of bird flu this year, but its reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il himself issued a rare public call in November for concrete precautions to prevent the disease.

Vaccines hampered

As countries in Europe and Asia stepped up bird flu monintoring, a British virologist says efforts to control the spread of bird flu in Southeast Asia were being hampered by the use of ineffective and often fake agricultural vaccines.

Such animal vaccines could be increasing the threat of the virus evolving and being able to pass to humans, US-based WHO animal flu specialist Robert Webster said.

He has called for more rigorous minimum standards for agricultural vaccines.

"There are good vaccines and bad vaccines. Good vaccines reduce virus load; bad vaccines stop the signs of disease but the virus keeps replicating, spreading and evolving," he told reporters in London.

In Asia, the potentially deadly H5N1 strain has already split into as many as five different lineages, he said.

Drug production boosted

Swiss drug giant Roche Pharmaceuticals has made agreements with 15 laboratories in the US to produce extra quantities of its Tamiflu medicine to counter avian flu.

US Senator Charles Schumer said Roche ? which holds the exclusive rights to manufacturing Tamiflu ? was about to announce the accords, but he said the deal depends on the US government and other countries making firm orders for the drug.

Mr Schumer urged the US administration and Congress to act quickly to vote money to build a stocks of Tamiflu, considered the most effective drug to counter H5N1.

SBS - The World News

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