Friday, July 07, 2006

U.K.'s Bird Flu Risk May Increase From Next Month

U.K.'s Bird Flu Risk May Increase From Next Month (Update2)
July 7 (Bloomberg) --

The risk of bird flu re-entering the U.K. will be higher between August and November, when wild fowl typically fly through the country during winter migration, a government report said.

Outbreaks of the lethal H5N1 avian influenza strain in countries along flyways that overlap the U.K. would also increase the probability of infection, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, known as Defra, said yesterday.

Governments and international health authorities are monitoring for H5N1, which has the potential to mutate into a pandemic form that may kill millions of people. Poultry deaths in Romania, scheduled to join the European Union in 2007, are raising concern that the virus is lingering in domestic and wild bird populations, Defra said on its Web site.

``The virus may continue to be introduced in some parts of the EU and eventually arrive in the U.K. because of the potential for limited mixing at some contact points between the existing wild water-bird populations from Eastern Europe with the populations in the EU,'' Defra said.

A flu outbreak killing 70 million people worldwide may cause global economic losses of as much as $2 trillion, the World Bank said last week. Since late 2003, H5N1 is known to have infected at least 229 people, mainly in Asia, killing 131 of them, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said on July 4.

Seasonal Pattern
Reports of human cases have tended to be highest during the cooler periods in the Northern Hemisphere, the WHO said in its June 30 issue of the Weekly Epidemiological Record. If this pattern continues, an increase in cases could be anticipated starting in late 2006 or early 2007, the report said.

``We have to get used to a seasonal pattern of avian influenza in the coming months and years,'' said Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, at a press conference in Brussels today. ``As long as the virus is endemic in Asia and parts of Africa, it's quite likely it will reappear in Europe.''

In Egypt, a seventh person died of H5N1, Cairo's Al-Wafd newspaper reported on its Web site yesterday. An 18-year-old woman died at the general hospital of Qena, in southern Egypt, several days after her hospitalization, the newspaper said, citing Ahmed Farrag, a regional legal official who authorized the woman's burial. The report didn't say when the woman died.

Indonesia
Indonesia may have recorded its 41st H5N1 fatality after a 3-year-old girl who died yesterday tested positive for the virus at a local laboratory, I Nyoman Kandun, director general of disease control and environment at the Ministry of Health, said in a phone interview today.

More birds are dying from avian flu in Indonesia because of poor vaccination particularly in the small-scale and backyard farms, the country's Agriculture Ministry said in a statement, citing Mathur Riady, director-general of livestock production.

One million fowl, half them of quail, died of bird flu in the first three months of this year, compared with a total of 1.2 million in 2005. Cases in fowl may have been under-reported last year, the ministry said. The virus is endemic in about 80 percent of 33 provinces in the Southeast Asian nation.

Denmark said yesterday that a low-pathogenic strain of an H5 avian flu subtype infected fowl on a farm with 25,000 mallards, pheasants, ducks, geese and ornamental birds at Loevel in Viborg county. The outbreak began on July 5, almost a month after a low- pathogenic form of the virus was reported on June 2, Denmark's Chief Veterinary Officer Preben Willeberg said in a report to the World Organization for Animal Health.

Winter
The U.K. and Denmark are among 37 countries reporting initial outbreaks this year, according to the Paris-based organization. More than 209 million poultry have died or been culled worldwide since January 2004 because of H5N1, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said June 19.

A severe winter in Russia and the Caucasus area at the end of 2005 pushed migratory birds south and westward, the FAO said. That may happen again this year, Defra said.
``Tools are currently being developed, based on known information of bird migration routes and abundance, to estimate this likelihood more accurately, and to assess changes in likelihood to the U.K. in the event of new outbreaks elsewhere,'' Defra said in its working paper, written by Mirzet Sabirovic, Simon Hall, John Wilesmith, Nick Coulson and Fred Landeg.

Since January, at least 55 people have died from H5N1 strain in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey, the WHO said. That compares with 19 fatalities in Vietnam and Cambodia in the first six months of 2005.

Turkey's government agreed to publicly release genetic sequence information from H5N1 viruses isolated from four Turkish patients. The data has been submitted to the Influenza Sequence Database at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

``This represents a long-awaited resource to public health institutes and research institutes around the world,'' the WHO's European Regional Office said today on its Web site. To contact the reporter on this story:
Jason Gale in Singapore at j.gale@bloomberg.net
Last Updated: July 7, 2006 06:53 EDT

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