Friday 26 April 2013

The spread of bird flu

New fears over bird flu
Australian health authorities are preparing to combat China's new strain of bird flu amid fears it is one of the most lethal influenza viruses the world has seen.

25 April, 2013

While there is still no evidence people can spread H7N9 to other humans, the government is warning travellers and doctors to be alert to symptoms and Australian scientists are working on a vaccine.

Deputy director of the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Ian Barr, said his team had acquired samples of the virus to develop a vaccine with CSL.

Cautious: People wear medical masks while commuting on a subway Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: Reuters

While his team is one of several working on a vaccine worldwide, Dr Barr said it should have a solid candidate in two or three weeks. ''We need to be vigilant. This virus obviously has the ability to infect humans at some level. It doesn't appear that it is easily transmissible between people which is good, but we have to be ready because these viruses can change,'' he said.

On Wednesday Keiji Fukuda, who is leading researchers for the World Health Organisation in China, said they were still trying to understand the virus but it appeared ''unusually dangerous''.

''This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen,'' said Dr Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security. ''We think this virus is more transmissible to humans than H5N1,'' he said, referring to the strain which WHO estimates has killed more than 360 people since 2003.

First case confirmed: A Taiwanese man reads a newspaper with headline "Taiwan has confirmed its first case of H7N9" at a subway station in Taipei. Photo: AP

The team said the likely source was poultry, as chickens, ducks and pigeons from poultry markets had tested positive for H7N9. China has confirmed 108 cases and 22 deaths since March 31, with a higher proportion of cases among older people. The first casediagnosed outside of China was in Taiwan on Wednesday.

According to news reports there, the 53-year-old man, who had been working in the Jiangsu province of China before he fell ill, claimed he had not been exposed to birds or poultry, nor had he eaten any undercooked poultry or eggs. Experts are worried the virus may mutate into a form easily transmissible among humans.

Chinese officials have acknowledged ''family clusters'' where members of a single family have become infected, but they have declined to put it down to human-to-human transmission. Such cases could be examples of what officials call limited human-to-human transmission, in which those in close contact with the ill become infected, as opposed to widespread, or ''sustained'', transmission.

So far most H7N9 cases have been confined to Shanghai and nearby provinces in eastern China. A spokeswoman for the Australian health department said the national medical stockpile included antiviral drugs, Oseltamivir and Zanamivir, which are effective against the new bird flu strain if taken early in the illness.

Asian countries tighten airport controls on flu fears

Several governments in Asia have ordered tougher screening of air travelers from China in an effort to contain a possible spread of a new strain of bird flu.

26 April, 2013

The H7N9 has killed 23 people on mainland China and infected one visitor from Taiwan. It has infected 109 people in China since it was first detected in March, Reuters reports.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization said it has no evidence so far of sustained transmission between people but added that this strain was more easily transmitted than an earlier, more deadly H5N1 strain that has killed hundreds around the world since 2003.

Taiwan reported the first H7N9 case outside of mainland China on Wednesday.
The 53-year-old man had returned from a visit to China's eastern city of Suzhou days before, and was being treated in hospital. He said he had not had any contact with poultry.

Taiwan has said it would test air travelers for bird flu if they displayed suspicious symptoms.

Vietnam has begun screening temperatures of all visitors at its airports and Japan said it will allow airports and seaports to make "thermographic inspections" of travelers from China starting in May.

Thai Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong said the country must step up precautions, adding that the health ministry will soon submit a plan to the prime minister to address the problem.

Singapore's health ministry said its healthcare institutions remain on heightened alert.

Vaccine months away

New Zealand virologist Lance Jennings says a vaccine for the new virus is probably about five months away and the first wave of the disease is likely to have already passed through this country by then.

But Dr Jennings says H7N9 can be treated with existing anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu.

He says the new strain has a lower mortality rate than the last flu pandemic strain, with 20% of patients dying compared to 60% for H5N1.

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