Entries in bird flu (14)


New Bird Flu Crosses Strait to Taiwan

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TAIPEI, Taiwan) -- A Taiwanese man has contracted a deadly strain of bird flu once confined to mainland China, health officials said Wednesday.

The man, 53, is thought to have imported the H7N9 virus to his native Taiwan after travelling to China's Jiangsu Province, where bird flu has sickened at least 24 people and killed three, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He is said to be in "severe condition."

The latest case as lifted the tally of virus victims to 109, 22 of whom have died, according to the World Health Organization. It has also flamed fears that the deadly virus could spread beyond East Asia.

"Given the extent of global travel, I expect that we will see cases in the United States," ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said. "It's so important that people who become ill tell their doctors if they have been traveling."

The Taiwanese man developed flu symptoms April 12, three days after returning to Taiwan from Shanghai, health officials said. He was hospitalized four days later. But initial tests for H7N9 were negative, with official confirmation from Taiwan's National Influenza Center coming more than two weeks after his trip April 24.

"Physicians are once again reminded to report suspected cases to the health authority within 24 hours of detection according to the relevant regulation," the Taiwanese CDC said in a statement, noting that suspected cases with severe respiratory infections should be hospitalized in isolation.

The H7N9 virus is thought to pass from birds to humans. But many of its victims, including the Taiwanese man, reported no contact with birds, and few birds are testing positive for the disease.

"There are so many unanswered questions about this disease," Besser said. "Could there be another route of transmission? Are some people becoming infected from exposure to infected people?"

Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center has obtained a list of 139 people who came into contact with the Taiwanese man, including 110 health care workers. Three health care workers who developed symptoms of an upper respiratory infection are being closely monitored, health officials said.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl last week said there was no evidence of "sustained human-to-human transmission," adding that "the only instances where there might have been human-to-human transmission are between two close family members."

"The main thing now is to figure out how this virus spreads and where it lives," Hartl said. "Until then, we're shooting in the dark."

In the meantime, Taiwanese health officials are urging travelers to mainland China to avoid direct contact with birds or their droppings, consume only thoroughly cooked poultry and eggs, wash their hands often and wear a protective mask.

U.S. health officials are also bracing for bird flu by preparing a vaccine, a process expected to take six months. In the meantime, they, too, are urging travelers to China to steer clear of birds, practice good hygiene and report any and all flu-like symptoms to a doctor upon return.

"The CDC has developed a diagnostic test for H7N9 flu so that travelers who develop symptoms can be tested," Dr. Besser said.

U.S. doctors are urged to promptly report suspected bird flu cases to their state health departments.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Bird Flu Widens Geographic Reach in China

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Officials in Beijing confirmed Saturday that a 7-year-old girl is infected with H7N9 avian influenza, widening the geographic spread of the virus that has already killed 11 people.

The girl, whose parents sell live poultry, was admitted to the hospital on Thursday with pneumonia and is the first case reported outside eastern China, where the virus was first reported in late March.

Government officials said the total number of new bird flu infections across the country rose to 47 today as the eastern province of Jiangsu reported two fresh cases and Shanghai reported one.

What is concerning about this latest report is the distance between Shanghai and Beijing.

The virus was able to travel more than 750 miles without leaving a trail of dead birds.

Unlike the H5N1 bird flu that raised concerns starting in 2003, H7N9 does not seem to make birds very sick or sick at all. This makes tracking the movement of the virus and containing it to limited flocks of birds next to impossible.

Authorities can't just test flocks that show signs of the disease. The case in Beijing illustrates that clearly. In order to understand where people might be at risk, China will have to screen many healthy birds across an increasingly large area.

The epidemiologic investigations of people who were sickened by H7N9 are extremely important. In order to prevent infections, authorities need to determine what kind of exposures put people at risk.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Experts Wary of Recent Bird Flu Outbreak in China

iStockphoto(BEIJING) -- The bird flu outbreak that has claimed six lives in China has experts on notice, but they say that while the public should be aware of the developments with the virus, there’s no reason to worry at this stage.

“To date, there’s no evidence of person to person transmission,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, Chief of the University of Utah's Pediatric Infectious Disease Division. The majority of the people who have gotten sick with the H7N9 virus have been in close contact with poultry. This has prompted China shutting down several poultry markets.

Still, the disease has dangerous potential. “H7N9 has not been known to infect humans before,”  said Director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group Dr. Gregory Poland . Now though, “it has jumped species and that makes it a novel virus and that raises some pandemic concern.”

Pavia says that working on a vaccine now might have an imperfect result, but that it can help get things moving in the right direction.

“It's possible that a vaccine that's developed with a strain that's isolated today will not be the perfect vaccine if in six or twelve months it becomes a wide spread epidemic. However, making a vaccine now has a lot of advantages,” he said.

“I think it's a story that the public should watch as we in the flu community are working very hard to track it because we really don't know where this is gonna go,” said Pavia.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


FDA Panel OKs Bird Flu Vaccine Stockpiling

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A vaccine for the H5N1 avian flu, or bird flu, has been approved by a panel of experts to be stockpiled for emergency use in case of a pandemic.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 14-0 in favor that the vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Quebec, was in compliance with licensing standards under accelerated approval regulations, reports MedPage Today.

H5N1 currently does not spread as easily among humans as it does among domestic foul, but flu experts have feared it could mutate and potentially lead to a pandemic. In infected humans, the virus is highly dangerous. The World Health Organization says since 2003, there have been 608 bird flu cases -- 359 of those cases resulted in death, according to MedPage.

Although the FDA isn't required to follow through with the advisory panel recommendations, it generally does, MedPage reports.

GSK, who has worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in developing the H5N1 vaccine, is hoping the agency will move forward on the panel's approval to stockpile the vaccine.

"We now look forward to a final decision by the FDA later this year and to also continuing our collaboration with the U.S. Government on public health issues," Glaxo VP of vaccine discovery and development, Bruce Innis said in a statement.

GSK says that in clinical trials, the most common side effects of the vaccine include pain at the injection site, swelling, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, joint pain, shivering and sweating.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Controversial Deadly Bird Flu Research Finally Published

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After months of controversial government assessment, the journal Nature published research Wednesday that discloses methodology behind creating a deadly strain of bird flu that could kill millions.

By conducting research in ferrets, a team of Japanese and U.S. researchers found that it would take four mutations of the bird flu virus for the strain to successfully spread from birds to mammals. The research comes after months of delay because of arguments that pitted the cause of medical preparedness against the dangers of disclosing information that could help bioterrorists.

The study is the first of two research papers that discuss the methodology behind creating deadly avian flu strains that have potential to kill millions.

“Currently, we do not know whether the mutations that we identified in this study that allowed the [study strain] virus to be transmissible in ferrets would also support sustained human-to-human transmission,” study authors wrote. “In particular, we wish to emphasize that the transmissible [study strain] virus possesses seven segments [all but the HA segment] from a human pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus.”

The second paper, which will be published in the journal Science, discusses the methodology behind a deadly H5N1 strain created in a Dutch laboratory at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam by scientist Ron Fouchier.

The team, headed by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, submitted the paper last year to the journal, but publication was delayed after the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity made the unprecedented decision to assess the findings prior to publication. But, in a commentary published Wednesday, Nature editors noted that “a paper that omits key results or methods disables subsequent research and peer review....We cannot imagine any mechanism or criterion by which to sensibly judge who should or should not be allowed to see the work.”

They also remarked, “Where there is a benefit to public health or science, publish!”

Since it appeared in 1996, H5N1 has killed hundreds of millions of birds, but transmission to humans has been rare. There have been about 600 confirmed cases of infections in people, mostly people who worked directly with poultry. While rare, it is a deadly human disease. About 60 percent of those who had confirmed cases of the virus died.

Up until now, experts believed that the strain was transmissible from person to person only through very close contact, but Fouchier mutated the strain, creating an airborne virus that could be easily transmitted through coughs and sneezes.

“Research into how flu viruses change, how they develop the ability to infect different species, is critically important for preparing for pandemics,” said Dr. Richard Besser, chief medical editor at ABC News. “It helps you predict what the next pandemic might be and to develop new vaccines.”

The dilemma is that this sort of research has dangers, Besser said. But manipulating the genome of microorganisms is now something even a talented high school student can do.

“The fear is that terrorists will take the lessons from this kind of research and use it to deliberately cause disease,” said Besser. “How you balance the importance for public health with the potential for harm is extremely challenging.”

Experts contacted by ABC News in December were split on whether the research should be published. While most virologists believe in non-censorship for the good of public health, some talked about the potential danger of releasing information on a virus that was so easily mutated.

“The idea that biosecurity consists in policing scientists or chimerical ‘bioterrorists’ is dangerous nonsense,” said Philip Alcabes, a professor in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. “Who knows what the motives of the self-professed biosecurity experts really are, but in practice, their ridiculous pronouncements promote vast expenditures of taxpayer monies that achieve little outside of propping up the very biosecurity industry from which the warnings come.”

“Censorship offends me, particularly in science,” John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, said in December. “Nonetheless, I think there should be review of something like this...but not necessarily by the government. It should be done by people who respect scientific openness, and publishing should be the default position.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


U.S. Gives the Go Ahead to Publish Controversial Bird Flu Research 

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A top U.S. health official said Friday the U.S. government is giving the green light to publish two controversial studies on H5N1 avian (bird) flu research, Health Day reports.

The researchers manipulated the potentially deadly virus until it could be transmitted between ferrets, which are considered models of humans. So far, Health Day says, the disease cannot be transmitted between humans.

Although the Department of Health and Human Services requested censorship of some of the data, out of fear the information could be misused by terrorists to create biological weapons, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Friday that full publication of the research was approved, Health Day reports. The director of USNIH said the research did not appear to enable misuse of the information that could endanger national security or public health.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Researchers Pause Work on Bird Flu That Could Kill Hundreds of Millions

Comstock/Thinkstock(ROTTERDAM, Holland) -- It is the stuff of science fiction: scientists tamper with a killer bird flu virus and create something much worse. But what has been created in a Rotterdam laboratory is not fiction. It is deadly real.

So deadly that the U.S. government -- which funded the Rotterdam research -- asked scientists to omit key details of their research when they are published to keep the formula out of the hands of bio-terrorists. And Friday, researchers announced a self-imposed 60-day "voluntary pause" on any research involving highly transmissible form of bird flu that they have created.

The researchers are responding to the worldwide furor that erupted after word of their work became public. There are serious public health reasons for the research and they want to lower the temperature of the discussion while they explain what they have done and why they have done it.

The lead author of Friday's announcement is Dr. Ron Fouchier, a respected molecular virologist. He heads at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, that engineered a form of "aerosolized" bird flu that can easily be passed from humans to humans through the air. The genetically-altered flu is thought to be so virulent that if the vials containing it were to get out, the virus would have the potential to spread around the globe and kill hundreds of millions.

Bird flu, also known as H5N1, first surfaced 15 years ago. It has not caused mass panic because it is only transmitted to humans who have direct contact with infected birds. But when humans do contract bird flu, they are likely to die.

According to the World Health Organization of 573 confirmed bird flu cases in humans since 2003, 336 people have died. That's a staggering 60 percent mortality rate. Nothing in history comes close to that.

ABC News was given an exclusive inside look at some of the testing facilities the Rotterdam researchers used. With Fouchier as the guide, ABC News' Jeffrey Koffman donned protective clothing and a face mask and passed through three levels of security to see the ferrets he uses for testing.

Fouchier explained how his lab assistants exposed the ferrets to the altered virus and placed unexposed ferrets in cages nearby. All 40 ferrets died. Scientists use ferrets because they have a respiratory system much like humans, which is why the researchers believe the consequences of an airborne bird flu would be just as deadly for humans.

No visitors, however, are allowed in the high secret lab at Erasmus Medical Centre where the actual experiment took place. He told ABC News that with U.S. and Dutch expertise, Erasmus spent eight years and millions of dollars building one of the most secure lab facilities in the world just for studying H5N1. They call it a BSL3 Enhanced lab -- that's Bio-Safety Level 3. The vials of enhanced bird flu are kept in a bank vault inside the lab. The lab is designed to keep the deadly virus in and intruders out.

The researchers who engineered this super-virus insist they are far from being "mad scientists" as some have suggested. They are public health specialists.

The man in charge, Fouchier is a tall, lanky molecular biologist who began his career studying HIV in Philadelphia, but switched to bird flu when the mysterious virus first surfaced in 1997.

"What scares me is that this can happen so easily," he says, "it's scary that it might actually happen in the field."

And that's the point behind research that on the surface seems insane to some. Fouchier says what he did in the lab was mutate a few genes. That happens regularly in nature.

Fouchier insists the dangerous part of this virus isn't what he has created in the lab, it is what can happen if nature creates something similar. He says this should be a wakeup call for public health authorities around the world.

In the history of epidemics and pandemics nothing has been as lethal as the bird flu Fouchier has created. The most deadly epidemic of the last century was the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. Virtually everyone in the world was infected. It is estimated that between 50 and 100 million people died -- conservatively that means it killed 3 percent of those infected. In a globalized world of air travel and mass transit, the prospect of an airborne bird flu with a 60 percent death rate is terrifying.

At its peak in 2006 bird flu was found in 63 countries, most of them in Asia. The Bush Administration was so concerned about the potential threat to humans from an airborne mutation that it contracted labs in the U.S. and overseas to see if such a human-to-human form really could evolve. The Dutch scientists were the first to prove it is possible. A lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has independently created a similar form of the lethal virus.

Since it peaked six years ago, H5N1 bird flu has been eradicated in many countries, but it remains endemic in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. Fouchier says one of the main reasons the U.S. and other Western governments were eager to see if the super-virus could be created was to push the countries where bird flu still exists to take the threat seriously.

"The urgency to eradicate bird flu in poultry markets [in those countries] was not very high," says Fouchier, "With these experiments we tell these countries please eradicate this virus very aggressively to prevent a pandemic."

"My first reaction was 'Oh, my God, why did they do this?'" says Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Second reaction was, 'Oh dear, it works!' Meaning that nature could do the same thing -- that they had proven how dangerous the virus could be. And then my final reaction was, 'We have no capacity to control this kind of work. Our treaty systems our policy systems, will not do the job.'"

Garrett wonders whether the science can be justified. "We have a whole legacy now of labs doing experiments that in the wrong hands could be very, very dangerous. I'm not real comfortable with having this virus exist -- anywhere."

But when ABC News surveyed virologists in the United State for their opinions on the value of such seemingly toxic science the overwhelming response was that Fouchier's work is a valuable contribution to public health around the world.

"I think it's a very good idea," says Dr. William Schaffner, Chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "We need to know more about how it is that influenza viruses that start out often in birds can transfer their capacity to make illness in humans and that essential research is going on in Rotterdam."

Schaffner says if affected countries do not move to eradicate bird flu and public health officials are not prepared for the appearance of a highly lethal airborne strain of the bird flu virus, the consequences could be horrifying. "If we were to have a pandemic caused by this virus in nature, then we are talking about millions of people being ill around the world, hospitals overflowing with sick people, funeral homes not being able to keep up with the deaths. So we need as much scientific information as possible to avert that."

Fouchier is scheduled to publish his findings in the journal Science. He has agreed to omit key details from the paper so that anyone thinking of replicating the virus will not have access to his blueprint. But he notes, the flu virus is hardly an effective form of bioterrorism. What he did is highly technical, requiring skills and equipment that are not widely available. He says nature produces much more accessible biological menaces on its own, although he is quick say he will not name them.

His bigger concern is that the outcry over his research will shut down an important branch of public health research -- not just for 60 days, but for good.

"If politics were to shut down this type of research then what we should do is lie in the sun until the next pandemic hits and kills us," he says. "That, I think, is not the attitude we should follow. Unless that is what we want we have to do this type of research. Otherwise we will be overwhelmed by Mother Nature terrorizing us in the future."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bird Flu Strain That Killed Man Won’t Spread, China Officials Say

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- A Chinese bus driver died after complications from the bird flu virus Saturday, but after genetic analysis, the strain contracted by the man can’t spread from person-to-person, the country’s health officials announced Monday.

According to the country’s official Xinhua News Agency, the 39-year-old man contracted the virus after having close contact with infected poultry.

“Though it is highly pathogenic to human beings, the virus can not spread among people,” the Shenzhen Disease Control Center said in a statement, according to Xinhua. “There is no need for Shenzhen citizens to panic.”

Since 2003, 593 bird flu cases have been confirmed and 336 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.

The newest case of bird flu came one week after two dead birds tested positive for H5N1 in Hong Kong, which is close to Shenzhen province.

“I am impressed at how thoroughly the Chinese government has investigated this case and how they’re taking the necessary precautions,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Philip Alcabes, associate professor of urban public health at Hunter College’s School of Health Sciences, said it’s important to remember that the H5N1 flu strain is an animal virus and it rarely makes humans ill.

But in a world of increasingly global relationships, Schaffner said this story should emphasize how important it is that public health surveillance activities “continue to function optimally to get early information on all these sorts of events throughout the world.”

“There is going to be a great tendency to want to cut public health budgets in a tough economy, but this could be perilous,” Schaffner said. “We can’t have appropriate pandemic and bioterrorism preparedness teams in place if we put those teams on the bench. That’s like cutting a town’s fire department in hopes there won’t be a fire.”

Schaffner said the fact that one Chinese man’s death from bird flu gains international media attention is a sign of how global the influenza pandemic can be.

“Influenza is an international infectious disease, so we must be sure to maintain a strong public health presence at home and have very close international ties with our colleagues around the world,” Schaffner said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


WHO ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Lab-Created Bird Flu Mutation

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is “deeply concerned” about researchers creating a more contagious and fatal form of the H5N1 bird flu.

Researchers in the Netherlands have manipulated the virus to make it more transmissible among humans, and it could potentially kill millions if released into the public.

The findings were set to be released in the U.S. journal Science, but the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an independent committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, reviewed it last Tuesday and warned that bioterrorists could replicate the study methods to create a weapon of biological warfare.

On Friday, the WHO echoed the agencies’ sentiments by saying that the studies could open the door to “possible risks and misuses.”

The current H5N1 strain is more often found in birds and not easily transmissible to humans. Hundreds of millions of birds have died from the virus since it was first identified in 1996. By comparison, only an estimated 600 people have been infected. About 60 percent of those who get the bird flu die, according to the WHO.

Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said he created the contagious form of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain “easily” by mutating a few genes within the strain. He agreed to exclude methodology details from his published reports on the new strain.

“We know which mutation to watch for in the case of an outbreak, and we can then stop the outbreak before it is too late,” Fouchier said in a statement on the medical center’s website. “Furthermore, the finding will help in the timely development of vaccinations and medication.”

Fouchier is one of many researchers worldwide looking at what kind of mutations would make the H5N1 more dangerous to humans.

In May, the WHO member countries adopted a Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework which set rules on sharing information about flu viruses that have pandemic potential.

“While it is clear that conducting research to gain such knowledge must continue, it is also clear that certain research, and especially that which can generate more dangerous forms of the virus than those which already exist, has risks,” the WHO said in a public statement.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hong Kong Slaughters Birds After Avian Flu Scare

AFP/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- Hong Kong health officials slaughtered nearly 20,000 birds after they discovered a dead bird in a poultry market was infected with the virus that causes bird flu, according to Bloomberg News.

The culling is one of a series of precautionary steps the government announced.  Authorities also tested birds from the city’s 30 chicken farms, and so far, no other birds tested positive for the virus, known as H5N1.

The city will also close the market where the infected chicken carcass was found until Jan. 12, and there is currently a ban on importing live poultry.  They are also testing people who may have come into contact with the birds.

In addition, there is a ban on the sale and import of live poultry for three weeks.

Despite the safety measures, a bird flu expert at the University of Hong Kong stressed that while there is a need to be cautious, there is no need to panic.

The first recorded cases of H5N1 in humans came from Hong Kong in 1997, and in response the government ordered the slaughter of all poultry in the city.

H5N1 is a potentially lethal virus and has the capacity to become a global pandemic, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  H5N1 does not normally infect humans unless they are in close contact with birds that have it, but according to statistics from the World Health Organization, there have been more than 500 human cases of bird flu and more than 300 deaths.

After the outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997, the virus didn’t re-emerge until 2003, when it began to spread across Asia, Europe and Africa.  Millions of birds have been infected and have either died or been killed in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio