Avian Influenza

ISLAMABAD, Feb 12: The Food and Agriculture Organization has approved a $390,000 emergency assistance for Pakistan to control “avian influenza outbreaks in all poultry species so as to stop the transmission of the disease from poultry to humans.”
The UN bodies, FAO and WHO, confirmed that Pakistan was infected with H-7 strain of avian influenza and said “avian influenza poses serious human health risks”.
The approval for assistance brings into question the stance of the country’s health authorities who have been asking people not to panic as there is no threat of transmission of the disease to humans.
The executive director of the National Institute of Health, Athar Saeed Dil, said H-7 strain was infectious under certain conditions, particularly to those exposed to the environment were not careful. He, however, maintained, that no case of human infection had been detected in the country.
During interviews, officials did not agree with the view that Pakistan did not have adequate diagnostic facilities for the detection of human infection caused by H-7 strain.
Part of the FAO assistance to Pakistan is for “enhancing” the diagnostic facilities, the agreement signed between the food ministry and FAO disclosed. It is pointed out that a meeting held in the health ministry on Jan 27 was informed that H-7 and H-9 strains of virus were not transferable to humans.
The FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the WHO’s technical consultation early this month found that the current epidemic “is considered to be evolving, and it is anticipated to continue to expand both in geographical distribution and incidence”.
However, the FAO said that even during serious outbreaks the virus rarely affected large numbers of people. But, the findings disclosed, “as the number of infected people increases, so too does the possibility that a new virus strain might evolve from an exchange between human influenza and avian flu genomes”.
In reply to a question about increased risks to humans, Dr Dil said the virus could become deadly if it underwent mutation by mixing with human influenza virus.
The FAO further found that “avian influenza can be caused by one of around 23 different strains of virus, all of which are type A members of the Orthomyxoviridae virus family.”
The agreement signed between the FAO and government came in the wake of the recommendations of FAO task force formed to monitor crisis and provide technical support to affected countries.
The FAO head office approved giving emergency assistance to Pakistan on Feb 2 along with authorization of three other missions to Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam.
According to the UN sources, the objectives of the Pakistan project would be defined during the inception mission of the project. They would include preparation of a zoning plan where culling could start in areas with the highest incidence and risk of disease, and training of farmers and government workers on safe disposal techniques and precaution.
The FAO-funded project would also aim to lay groundwork for a national epidemiological study of the disease through surveillance, mapping and disease modelling. Officials told Dawn that early disease warning systems were required for effective preventive measures and early detection of any new disease.
The technical consultation of the UN bodies found that the “epidemic is not considered to be under control, and therefore, required a concerted emergency response.”
“There will be a continuing threat to human health as long as the infection is present in the poultry production systems in Asia,” the technical consultation’s report said.
According to the FAO, the control strategies, including planning and start of mass slaughter of poultry, are currently under implementation in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, China and Taiwan Province of China. Moreover, vaccination has started or ordered in Central and Southern China, Taiwan province of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Pakistan.
Facts about bird flu
Here is a look at the bird flu spreading through Asia.
WHAT IS IT: A form of influenza believed to strike all birds, though domestic poultry are believed especially prone to it. It also has jumped to humans, though no human-to-human transmission has been reported.
WHERE IS IT: Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Laos. Pakistan says it had detected bird flu, though the World Health Organization has not yet confirmed an outbreak. Thailand and Vietnam have reported human cases.
HOW MANY PEOPLE AFFECTED: Possibly 13 people – eight confirmed cases and five suspected cases – have died. Vietnam has confirmed seven human cases, six of whom have died. Thailand has confirmed three cases, including two deaths. Thailand says five other suspected patients have also died.
HOW IT’S PASSED: Infected birds spread the virus through saliva, faeces, and nasal secretions. So far, only humans with direct contact with sick birds have caught the disease. But scientists are worried that bird flu could link with regular human influenza, mutate, and become a deadly new virus and trigger a pandemic
SYMPTOMS IN BIRDS: Loss of appetite, ruffled feathers, fever, weakness, diarrhoea, excessive thirst, swelling. If the strain is virulent, mortality rate can range between 50 percent to 100 percent.
SYMPTOMS IN HUMANS: Fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia.
OTHER HUMAN OUTBREAKS: Bird flu was first reported in humans in Hong Kong in 1997. Since then, it’s popped up mostly in Asia, although the Netherlands reported an outbreak, including human cases, in 2003.
TREATMENT FOR HUMANS: World Health Organization says this year’s strain is resistant to cheaper anti-viral drugs, amantadine and rimantadine. Scientists are exploring more expensive treatment. WHO also recommends quarantining sick people.
FOOD SAFETY: There’s no evidence that the virus is being passed through eating chicken products, health experts say. Heat kills viruses, and WHO says chicken products should be cooked thoroughly at temperatures of at least 70 degrees Celsius. WHO also says people should wash their hands after handling poultry and ensure that poultry carcasses do not contaminate other objects.-APP/AP
No part of Asia safe from bird flu: WHO
HANOI, Feb 4: Two more fatalities in Vietnam and one in Thailand lifted the regional death toll from bird flu to 16 on Wednesday as the World Health Organisation said no part of Asia was safe from the disease.
A US medical expert said that China, which confirmed another outbreak, probably already has human cases of bird flu.
Henry Niman, a bioengineer at Harvard Medical School, said precious time needed to prevent disaster was being lost because of China’s failure to acknowledge the extent of the epidemic.
China insists no people have come down with the disease. It did not report any outbreaks until last Tuesday, since when confirmed or suspected outbreaks have been announced in a third of its regions.
But in human terms Vietnam, where 11 people have now died from 15 confirmed cases, is the worst affected.
The latest victims were a 24-year-old man from the Vietnamese province of Lam Dong, and a 15-year-old girl from Tay Ninh in the south, health officials said.
Thailand, the only other nation to have acknowledged human fatalities from the disease, confirmed a fifth death, that of a six-year-old boy.
Meanwhile, WHO warned Wednesday that no part of Asia should consider itself immune from the avian flu, which it said appeared to be older and more established than initially thought.
“The speed with which the virus is spreading suggests that nowhere in the region is safe,” said Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO’s Manila-based Western Pacific office. “The virus is spreading faster than we can get to it.”
As well as China, Vietnam and Thailand, bird flu outbreaks have also been confirmed in Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos and South Korea, Taiwan and Pakistan.
WHO has warned that the H5N1 virus could kill millions across the globe if it combined with a human influenza virus to create a new highly-contagious strain transmissible among humans.
It says the further culling of birds, a ban on poultry imports from affected areas and improved hygiene measures were essential to containing the virus.
More than 25 million chickens have died or been culled across Asia, with the disease believed to have been passed on to humans through direct contact with sick birds or their droppings.-AFP
The FAO further found that “avian influenza can be caused by one of around 23 different strains of virus, all of which are type A members of the Orthomyxoviridae virus family.”
He said symptoms of disease in chicken included fever, loss of appetite, swelling of head and neck and bleeding. Mr Memon said symptoms in human being included cough, running nose, fever, muscle ache, congestion of eyes.
Dr Memon cautioned that the main danger from disease was extension of infection to lungs which leads to pneumonia. He made it clear that there was no danger from eating cooked poultry meat and eggs but added that the problem arose during handling birds and their meat before cooking.
He advised wearing of gloves, mask and gowns while handling the birds. Professor Latif Soomro and Professor Rafique Soomro also spoke on the occasion.
The vice-chancellor Professor Jan Mohammad Memon presided over the seminar which was aimed at creating awareness about the disease. A large number of people including consultants, doctors, postgraduate and under-graduate students attended the seminar.
Mr Memon advised poultry farmers to strictly monitor their farms on scientific basis and to get their birds vaccinated against the bird flu. He urged the health authorities to remain vigilant.
Dean of the faculty of medicine, Professor Allah Bachayo Memon, gave a clinical presentation, diagnosis, treatment and preventive measures. He said so far no human-to-human transmission had been reported.
Part of the FAO assistance to Pakistan is for “enhancing” the diagnostic facilities, the agreement signed between the food ministry and FAO disclosed. It is pointed out that a meeting held in the health ministry on Jan 27 was informed that H-7 and H-9 strains of virus were not transferable to humans.
The FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the WHO’s technical consultation early this month found that the current epidemic “is considered to be evolving, and it is anticipated to continue to expand both in geographical distribution and incidence”.
Bird flu confined to Karachi and receding
By Our Staff Reporter
LAHORE, Jan 27: The country in general and Punjab in particular is safe from the bird flu and no case has been detected in the province, said Livestock and Dairy Development Minister Syed Haroon Ahmed Sultan on Tuesday.
Talking to Dawn, the minister claimed that some isolated cases were reported from Karachi last week and teams were sent there to investigate the situation. They found a few cases of avian influenza – H-7 and H-9 – in the layer breed of chicks.
(According to AFP, a Pakistan Agriculture Research Commission official said the virus remained confined to Karachi and had been contained) The chicks, he emphasized, were not infected by H-5 that had spread panic in the Far East and claimed many lives there.
Mr Sultan said avian influenza was a “routine type of disease” which was neither transmittable to humans nor injurious to health. He said it was limited to layers which only hatched table eggs and were not used in human diet. “So, there is no need to panic as far as this disease is concerned,” he added.
The minister said all 14 types of vaccines required for immunization of chicks were available in abundant quantity in the province and “every disease is under control”. However, he pointed out, the provincial government was constantly watching the situation. He said the Far East was in grip of a particular variety of flu i.e H-5 and added: “The country in general and Punjab in particular is safe from H-5. Yet, a vaccination drive has been planned to further secure the industry and imports from infected countries have been stopped forthwith.”
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Poultry Association (PPA) denied any outbreak of H-5 type flu and demanded an inquiry against those “spreading such rumours”. Talking to Dawn, a representative of the association, Mr Basit, explained that avian influenza H-7 and H-9 had broken out in Karachi in November. He said those varieties had only affected layers. It never hit broiler chicken, he added.
He said when the disease spread in Karachi, the industry slaughtered over 1.5 million affected birds. It arranged for vaccine and controlled it, he claimed. No further case had since been reported, he said. He asked the federal government to start an inquiry into the spread of rumours as they would affect the industry badly. He claimed that one of the orders, by a Saudi importer, had already been cancelled.
AFP adds: Officials and country’s poultry breeders were at odds over the number of chickens infected with bird flu, as the government rejected poultry industry estimates that 3.5 million chickens had died of the virus.
The PPA said relatively mild strains of avian influenza had caused deaths of 3.5 million chickens around Karachi over the past three months. “We are sure that an estimated 3.5 million birds have died of that virus since late October,” spokesman Afsar Qadri said. “We were not convinced earlier of the provincial government laboratories’ test but now the outbreak of avian influenza is proven as other laboratories have confirmed it,” he pointed out.
But Sindh Agriculture and Livestock Minister Manzoor Panwhar said figures were exaggerated and suggested the toll was under one million. “We believe that avian influenza has caused deaths among 10 per cent of the total layer’s population and PPA figures appear to be exaggerated,” he said.
He would not give the number of layers in the province, but Mr Qadri estimated that 7 to 8 million layers were bred at farms around Karachi. The minister said the government would meet poultry industry leaders to discuss culling infected birds. “We have summoned a meeting to discuss with farmers’ representatives ways and means to overcome the virus,” he told AFP.