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Bird flu spreads further in Asia

Three Asian nations reported new outbreaks of bird flu in poultry on Thursday, a day after health experts unveiled a $1 billion global plan to halt the spread of the deadly virus.
/ Source: Reuters

Three Asian nations reported new outbreaks of bird flu in poultry on Thursday, a day after health experts unveiled a $1 billion global plan to halt the spread of the deadly virus.

China, Vietnam and Thailand said they had more outbreaks as the region heads into the northern winter, when the H5N1 avian flu virus seems to thrive.

Vietnam, where the virus has killed 42 people, will send soldiers and police to help contain avian flu. Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat urged provincial authorities to do more.

“We must launch a campaign to build each hamlet, each commune into a stronghold for fighting the epidemic,” Phat was quoted as saying in Nong Nghiep Vietnam, a newspaper run by his ministry.

“In an emergency, the army will be deployed to isolate the infected area,” he said.

Adding to the unease, the sudden death of a flock of ducks also suggested a more virulent strain was at work, another Vietnamese official said.

A highly pathogenic form of the H5N1 virus is endemic in poultry across Asia, where it is known to have infected 124 people and killed 64. Indonesia reported another death on Wednesday, but the cause is still subject to final test results.

The virus has been found in birds in eastern Europe and there are fears migrating flocks could take it to the Middle East and Africa.

Experts fear H5N1 could mutate into a form that passes easily among people, just like human influenza. If it does, millions could die because they would have no immunity.

Rapid response promised
Chinese state media reported two new outbreaks in poultry in the northeast, bringing the total number of outbreaks to six since the start of last month. Thailand said tests confirmed the presence of H5N1 in two provinces next to the capital Bangkok, a city of 10 million people.

Health and veterinary officials from around the globe announced a strategy on Wednesday aimed at rooting out bird flu among poultry and stopping it from spawning a pandemic.

“What is important to me is there has been consensus and clarity, (and) much better coordination. We’ll be much quicker to control avian influenza as a result,” David Nabarro, the U.N.’s chief bird flu coordinator, told reporters after the meeting at the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

The strategy aims to bolster early warning systems, strengthen veterinary services, make it easier for rich and poor nations alike to get antiviral drugs and step up research into pandemic vaccines.

Hungarian rehearsal
Hungary gassed around 200 chickens on Thursday in a rehearsal of its the ability to deal with an outbreak of bird flu, which has been spread to neighbours Romania and Croatia by migrating flocks.

An outbreak would trigger the gassing of infected flocks and could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation if it is not contained, according to the plan.

“It is the economic damage that would be huge here,” Hungary’s Chief Veterinarian Miklos Suth told Reuters.

Italy has found a form of the H5N1 virus in a wild duck, but the Health Ministry said on Thursday it was not dangerous and bore no relation to the strain of  Asian avian influenza.

The H5N1 virus was identified on Wednesday in a testing centre in northern Italy, the health ministry said. It added the virus was genetically similar to strains frequently found among wild waterfowl in Europe, and not highly pathogenic.

“There is no alarm. There is no new concern,” ministry official Elisabetta Alberti Casellati said.