China and Vietnam reported new bird flu outbreaks in poultry Friday despite massive prevention efforts, while Japan prepared to destroy 180,000 birds to stop a suspected outbreak and Thailand announced plans to distribute its own generic anti-viral drug.
As global jitters mounted, a meeting of ministers from 17 African nations appealed to the continent’s governments to share resources, warning that migratory birds from Europe and Asia could carry the virus to their shores.
“The first birds should hit the continent in two to three weeks,” said Aberra Deressa, Ethiopia’s agriculture minister, at the conference in Kigali, Rwanda. “We cannot move separately, we have to move together or we will fail.”
The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has devastated Asia’s poultry flocks and killed at least 62 people since 2003.
Most of the human deaths from bird flu have been linked to close contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form easily spread from person to person and spark a worldwide pandemic.
China’s latest outbreak — the fourth in three weeks in the world’s most populous country — killed 8,940 chickens Oct. 26 in Badaohao village in Liaoning province east of Beijing, the government said.
The outbreak prompted authorities to destroy 369,900 other birds in the region and came despite efforts to tighten controls on China’s 5.2 billion chickens, ducks and other poultry.
Hong Kong immediately banned poultry imports from Liaoning.
No human cases have been reported in China, but authorities warn one is inevitable if the government can’t stop repeated outbreaks in poultry.
In Vietnam — where most of the human deaths have occurred — more than 3,000 poultry died or were slaughtered this week in three villages in Bac Giang province, 35 miles northeast of Hanoi, said provincial vice chairman Nguyen Dang Khoa.
Transporting poultry in or out of the three villages was banned, and the area has been disinfected and remaining poultry vaccinated, he said. In one village, Van Trung, a dozen local officials went from house to house Friday, beating to death any poultry they found.
“We expect more outbreaks, not just in Bac Giang, but also in other provinces,” said Hoang Van Nam, deputy director of the Animal Health Department. “Cooler weather now makes it easier for the virus to spread.”
In Japan, authorities said antibody testing had found that 80 chickens at a farm in Ibaraki state had been exposed to a virus of the H5 strain, but survived. Nevertheless, 180,000 or 300,000 birds at the farm would be killed as a precaution, officials said.
Generic antivirals in the works
In Thailand, the head of the state drug production company said Friday the country could begin as early as February distributing its generic version of Oseltamivir, considered to be one of the most effective anti-viral drugs for bird flu.
Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche developed Oseltamivir, known by the trademarked name Tamiflu, but cannot keep up with demand.
Roche confirmed Tamiflu is not patented in Thailand and the country could make it without compensating the company. It also offered Thailand its expertise in making the drug, saying it was “interested in ensuring the best possible global preparedness for a potential pandemic threat.”
Underscoring the shortage, Cambodia’s Health Ministry said it only enough Tamiflu to treat about 100 people.
Africa is of particular concern, because with its strained infrastructure, experts fear any cases of the virus will be poorly reported and poorly managed.
“We are going to be affected seriously if we don’t tackle the problem now,” said Aberra, who is also the outgoing head of the council of African ministers responsible for animal resources.
Livestock experts at the meeting in Kigali warned that an H5N1 outbreak on the continent “could be potentially more severe than in Asia, in view of the fact that a large number of rural people live in close association with domestic fowl.”
Africa has an estimated 1.1 billion domesticated poultry.