Continuing to track H5N1

This file archives bits I have saved from a frequently-visited Google News search for 'h5n1', and contains items from 25 January through 5 February. I'll use the h5n1log.html page for updates from 6 February.

Starting 25 January 2004:

News reports are eloquent in many ways, including the tangential subjects they include. I've added to this collection as interesting bits appeared via the Google news search:

Avian Flu Said to Be Resistant to a Main Flu-Fighting Drug By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN
Published: January 25, 2004 New York Times
W.H.O. officials are concerned that the bird strain might exchange genes with a human virus to create an entirely new virus that could spread easily among people. It would take a combination of events, each of low probability, to produce a large outbreak. But the health agency said the implications for public health were so important that precautionary measures must be taken.

Because a viral recombination could occur at any time, and the threat is likely to last for some time, the health organization is establishing systems for a long vigil through its influenza surveillance network, said Dick Thompson, a W.H.O. spokesman in Geneva.

The organization, other United Nations agencies and health groups, are emphasizing that infected Asian countries must kill all poultry, a standard measure to stop avian influenza from becoming endemic.

A Horror Script For Health Officials Bird Flu Poses Global Epidemic Threat By David Brown Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, January 25, 2004

The H and N denote two proteins, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, that sit on the outer shell of the virus. Together, they provide a virus's chemical appearance to the immune system. The particular combination of H and N is the key to a strain's identity and the first hint of whether it might be a danger to people.

There are 15 forms of hemagglutinin and nine of neuraminidase in the most populous class of flu viruses -- influenza A. (The less common and less dangerous influenza B has only one type of H and N).

When a virus with a new H-N combination appears, immunity built up to older ones is no help. What follows can be a worldwide epidemic -- assuming the virus also grows well in people and is spread easily in coughs and sneezes...

There are many H-N combinations, however, seen only in other species, particularly birds, which are the real home range for flu virus. The feared H5N1 is one of them. It can tear through chicken flocks with a mortality approaching 90 percent. But virologists did not think it could infect people -- at least, not until 1997.

That year, 18 people in Hong Kong became infected with H5N1 -- the first time direct bird-to-people transmission had been seen. Six died, most of them healthy young adults -- a disturbingly high percentage.

Previously, scientists believed that to infect and kill a person, a bird flu virus would first have to acquire at least a few genes from the flu viruses that regularly circulate in human populations. That is possible because unlike viruses whose genes reside on a single unbroken strand of RNA or DNA, flu carries its genetic information on eight separate strands. Under the right conditions, it can trade one of more of them with another flu virus, like a card player in a game of hearts.

Virologists once believed these "reassortments" occurred only in pigs, because that species is capable of being infected by both human and avian flu. With the 1997 Hong Kong cases, however, it was clear reassortment might also occur in a person simultaneously infected by both.

The chance of that occurring depends on how much avian flu is around. What scares scientists this winter is that it is all over the place -- in flocks in Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and now Thailand.

"It is an unprecedented situation with H5N1 virus in so many countries around Asia," Webster said. "The extent of the spread of this virus has not been seen before."

How H5N1 became so widespread is not known. The urgent chore is to get rid of the animals harboring it.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of chickens have been killed in flocks in Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. The number could go much higher.

It is important to protect the workers culling the flocks from getting human flu, lest they themselves become the "mixing vessels" in which a reassortment occurs. WHO is urging they be vaccinated, and if possible be given preventive medicines.

Asian Bird Flu Hits Indonesia
BANGKOK, Thailand Jan. 25 — Indonesia became the seventh country in Asia to confirm an outbreak of deadly bird flu, as the World Health Organization warned Sunday the virus could be resistant to basic human influenza drugs.

...Indonesian officials had earlier denied the diseases' presence, but the Indonesian Veterinarians Association said several independent investigations had revealed that bird flu had already killed millions of chickens over the past several months.

Asia is on a region-wide health alert, with governments slaughtering millions of chickens to contain outbreaks in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Vietnam has slaughtered more than 3 million chickens while Thailand has exterminated some 9 million. On Sunday, the Thai government enlisted hundreds of soldiers and 60 prisoners to help with the mass cull.

Vietnam orders mass chicken cull from Daily Times of Pakistan 26 January

On advice from the United Nations, the government also banned the sale of poultry in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest metropolis.

Agriculture officials said the costly decision to cull millions of healthy chickens in the worst-affected areas was taken to prevent further transmission of the virus.

“The Ministry has decided to kill all chickens in these epidemic zones,” Dau Ngoc Hao, deputy director of the veterinarian department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, told AFP.

Eighteen other provinces and cities have reported outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, but so far the government has decided against ordering a cull of poultry there.

20m chickens buried alive to stop virus (Times of Oman)

Bangkok...Meanwhile, China raised its defences against the disease by banning poultry imports from Thailand and Cambodia. An Indonesian government spokesman said 4.7 million birds have died since November by a combination of Newcastle disease and what he called Type A avian influenza. About 60 per cent of the birds died from Newcastle disease.

“The government will not cover it up that Indonesia has now been infected by the avian influenza which has attacked millions of poultry in Indonesia,” said the Agriculture Ministry’s director for animal husbandry, Sofyan Sudrajat, according to Antara news agency. It was not known whether the H5N1 strain was present in Indonesia. Japan, Cambodia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam have all reported the strain, while Taiwan has detected only the weaker H5N2. Millions of chickens have been slaughtered in those countries.

No deaths have been confirmed from the stronger strain outside of Vietnam, although it is suspected of killing one Thai man.

About 650 Thai troops were ordered to slaughter all chickens in Suphan Buri province, where the virus was first detected, while culling was to intensify in adjoining Kanchanaburi, which borders Myanmar and where H5N1 was also confirmed yesterday.

Giant poultry industry at risk: Thaksin warns that the outbreak could deal a crippling blow to the country's chicken exports - worth $2.2b last year (Straits Times)

BANGKOK - Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has acknowledged that the onset of the bird flu virus in Thailand could devastate the country's giant poultry industry, one of the largest in the world.

Mr Thaksin said that overall exports could drop by up to 0.4 per cent and gross domestic product could slip by as much as 0.1 per cent.

'If they are going to stop buying, we have to deal with it,' he said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

'This is the worst-case scenario. Whatever we lose, we have to lose.'

Thailand, the region's largest poultry exporter, shipped about 500,000 tonnes of chicken worth US$1.3 billion (S$2.2 billion) last year.

But on Friday, the European Union (EU) and Japan - Thailand's biggest markets for poultry - slapped bans on Thai chickens along with a host of other countries.

No bird flu entered RP, DoH assures public

By Inquirer News Service and Inquirer wires (Philippines)

THE DEPARTMENT of Health Sunday assured the public that no poultry infected with the bird flu has entered the country in the wake of reports that a shipment of imported dressed chicken had been released without being cleared by authorities.

DoH spokesperson Luningning Villa said a rumor was being spread by mobile text messages that 19 container vans of infected poultry had entered the country. Villa denied the rumor.

On Friday, a shipment of dressed chicken from Taiwan reportedly arrived in Batangas province and was allegedly released by the Bureau of Customs despite the ban on poultry imports from Taiwan and other countries hit by the bird flu epidemic.

The shipment was reportedly released without the clearance from the Bureau of Animal Industry and the National Meat Inspection Commission.

Six of the container vans, however, were recovered and impounded.

26 January

China probes duck deaths amid bird flu fears -HK TV 26 Jan 2004 10:27:30 GMT
HONG KONG, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Chinese authorities are probing the deaths of hundreds of ducks on a farm in southern Guangxi, Hong Kong media reported on Monday, but a Chinese official said there were no reports of bird flu in the country.

Hong Kong's Cable TV said Chinese officials did a poultry cull last Thursday in and around the farm in the village of Dingdang in the province of Guangxi, which lies just north of Vietnam, where the deadly H5N1 bird flu has killed at least six people and ravaged the chicken population.

DPH calls for precautions when consuming frozen chicken and duck (Haveeru Daily, Maldives)

MALE, Jan 26 (HNS) -- The Department of Public Health has asked people to take extra precautions when consuming frozen chicken and duck. The appeal comes in the wake of H5N1 or the bird flu virus now spreading in eight Asian countries. Officials said that frozen chicken and duck should be properly cooked before being eaten. Consumers should also check whether they have been stored or kept at the correct temperatures and conditions. The DPH also cautioned people to check whether blood was visible in the meat. The department further called on Maldivian travellers to be extremely cautious when visiting countries with bird flu.

Taiwan declares itself bird-flu-free (ABC Australia)

Taiwan authorities say the island is clear of the deadly bird flu strain found in Thailand and Vietnam.

Earlier this month, Taiwanese authorities slaughtered 55,000 chickens after an outbreak of bird flu.

It has now been announced that the chickens were not infected with the deadly H5N1 virus that has killed people in Thailand and Vietnam.

Taiwan had an outbreak of the less virulent H5N2 virus.

A government spokesman says there is no danger that the H5N2 virus could cause a mass infection of poultry or be passed to humans.

Taiwan remains unaffected by the deadly bird flu strain, as does China.

I did a Google search for "thai poultry industry" (48 hits) to get some background

Mapping the bird flu outbreak (BBC) ...the map is especially interesting for what it doesn't show...

Bird flu virus spreads to Pakistan (Guardian Unlimited)

Laos fears that it could also be hit, and is awaiting the results of tests on the nature of an illness that is killing its fowl.
A news item from 30 November 2003: Thailand: GFPT to invest B1bn to expand poultry business
In line with the bullish outlook for chicken exports next year, major producer GFPT Plc is preparing to invest at least one billion baht to expand its poultry business.

...The substantial increase in Thai chicken exports this year to 550,000 tonnes, from 465,000 tonnes in 2002, has drawn chicken producers to raise capacity. Market leader Saha Farms Group earlier announced an investment of 10 billion baht to double chicken meat production to 200,000 tonnes a year.

Mr Anan, also the president of the Thai Broiler Processing Exporters Association, said exports next year should rise significantly to at least 600,000 tonnes as demand from key markets, Japan and the European Union, remains high.

He said domestic sales, which contribute about 75% of the company's revenue, also had a brighter outlook, as did supplies of processed meat such as chicken nuggets for McDonald's restaurants overseas.

He said that subsidiary McKey Food Services (Thailand), a joint venture of GFPT and Keystone Foods Corporation (USA), would soon begin supplying products to McDonald's in Japan and Korea, in addition to the current markets in Singapore and Hong Kong. More processing joint ventures with Japanese partners were being negotiated.

As Pak[istan] culls chickens, India says no need of panic

NEW DELHI : With bird flu reported from Pakistan , the Indian authorities are scrambling to get their act together to screen for the disease and, hopefully, prevent its entry.

Top Union agriculture ministry officials were unavailable for comment but they have been keeping a watch. So has the health ministry. "There is no need to panic," said animal husbandry commissioner V K Taneja on Monday, a day when reports from Pakistan quoted agricultural researchers there as confirming that two different strains of bird flu had killed up to four million chickens in Sindh since November.

Bird flu epidemic is 'worst in history' 16:50 26 January 04 news service
Indonesia has become the latest country to admit that a massive outbreak of bird flu has been ravaging its chicken farms for months. The disease has now led to the death of many millions of birds across south-east Asia, and at least seven people.

The scale of the epidemic is unprecedented, says Klaus Stöhr, a senior virologist at the World Health Organization. "Never in history have we seen such outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza over such a wide area, simultaneously," he told New Scientist.

Your chicken is safe, for now Hindustan Times New Delhi, January 26

The most worrying thing is that bird flu is flying closer home. Pakistan admitted on Monday that millions of chickens have been killed by bird flu in past few weeks. But Indian chicken is safe for the present. Though the health ministry has issued an alert, officials of the agriculture ministry say India is safe since it does not import chicken either for breeding or for consumption, which Pakistan and the south-east Asian countries do.

KFC: Ban on Thai poultry won’t affect business The Star, Malaysia

KFC Holdings (M) Bhd (KFCH), the country's largest fast-food group, said a ban on poultry imports from Thailand would not affect its business because it used chickens from its own farms.

Malaysia had on Saturday banned poultry imports from Thailand after 2 boys in that country tested positive for the bird flu virus H5N1, which killed 5 people in Vietnam. Thailand reported its first death from the virus yesterday.

“We don't import any chickens from Thailand,'' KFCH deputy general manager of group public relations Rosniza Baharum said . “We are self-sufficient, producing 3 million chickens a month, all of which are taken from local farms.'' Sales at its outlets had not been hurt, she added.

KFCH, which operates 568 outlets under its KFC, Pizza Hut and Ayamas franchises in Malaysia and Singapore, would work with the Department of Veterinary Services Malaysia to monitor its farms and the hygiene of meat produced.

The European Union, Japan, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and Singapore have banned poultry imports from Thailand, the world's 4th largest exporter of chicken.

The bird flu scare Jakarta Post

After months of keeping silent, the government finally admitted during the weekend that the millions of chickens that had died in Java, Bali and several other parts of the country in the past few months had perished of bird flu -- the feared avian influenza that could also be fatal to humans, as several cases in China, Vietnam, Korea and elsewhere have shown. On the island of Java alone, about 10 million birds are estimated to have died of the disease since October last year.

But why the months of official silence?

Sofjan Sudardjat, Director General for the Development of Animal Husbandry at the Ministry of Agriculture, has this possible explanation: Between September and November of last year, the outbreak was already widespread. However, there was no evidence that the disease had spread to humans. In the months since September, some 4.7 million hens have died, at least 400 farms have been affected, and several people in Vietnam and elsewhere have died. But Vietnam, China and Korea seem a safe distance away. Furthermore, at least in the eyes of scientists and officials, Indonesians can take comfort in the knowledge that they are more or less immune to the disease, being racially closer to the African races than the Mongoloid, who seem to be more susceptible to the avian flu virus.

Be that as it may, the authorities began

Spread of Flu Across Asia Laid to Birds That Migrate By KEITH BRADSHER New York Times

The big mystery remains where the migratory birds became infected. Although China denies having had any bird flu cases, many signs point to southern China, where there have been periodic reports in recent weeks of large-scale deaths of ducks.

27 January
Newswatch continues, and once again I'm as interested in how the events are narrated, and what's said/not said, as in the 'facts' themselves, though the bits of fact contributed in a news story gradually add up to a more elaborate picture of this fascinating industry :

Bird Flu Leaps Into Laos; Kills Another Thai Boy Sasithorn Simaporn, Reuters
BANGKOK (Reuters) - The bird flu rampaging through Asia made the dreaded leap into impoverished Laos as a second Thai boy died of the disease Tuesday and countries tightened defenses against a potential SARS-like epidemic.

A senior Lao Agriculture Ministry official said tests confirmed the disease had struck the area around Vientiane, but not yet whether it was the virulent variety which has killed eight people or a milder variety which does not hit humans.

The confirmation of the disease, which has now struck in nine Asian countries as far apart as Pakistan and Japan, brings the disease ever closer to China's massive chicken farms.

It will also present health experts with a problem they had hoped not to face, if it turns out Laos has the H5N1 strain that has killed people in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand.

World Health Organization spokesman Peter Cordingley said it would be especially worrying if the bird flu leapt into humans in Laos because of its "very poor public health infrastructure." "If the virus became embedded in Laos, we'll have very serious problems," he said Monday.

In Asia, alarm and new defences as bird flu spreads By Jason Szep SINGAPORE (Reuters)

...Singapore, where a SARS outbreak last year killed 33 people and made 238 sick, has had no confirmed cases of bird flu but farm inspections are being doubled to twice a day, Goh said, and checks on live fowl shipments from Malaysia will be stepped up.

About 120,000 chickens are trucked into Singapore each day from Malaysia.

South Korea, one of the first countries hit by the disease, added sniffer dogs at immigration health inspection points and installed 400 disinfectant mats at its sea and air ports that kill germs on the shoes of travellers.

Australia also tightened border controls with Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua, off the northern coastline, and increased surveillance of traditional fishing vessels entering the Torres Strait.

At least 400 farms across Indonesia's vast archipelago have suffered outbreaks of the virus.

Authorities were also on the lookout for Australians returning from the Indonesian resort island of Bali or other parts of Indonesia carrying souvenirs with feathers that can spread the virus.

Japan's ban on the import of birds for pets also includes exotic bird meats and will begin from February 1, the Agriculture Ministry said. In Singapore, songbirds such as the popular red-whiskered bulbul from Thailand are included in the ban.

Australia, whose poultry industry is worth A$3 billion ($2.3 billion) a year, is an annual destination for migratory birds from Asia, but authorities said they were less alarmed by threats posed by birds than by airline passengers.

Bird flu in check, national steering committee to be established (Voice of Vietnam)

Health Minister Tran Thi Trung Chien on Monday reported to the Government on the bird flu outbreak in Vietnam, known to cause influenza A in humans. The Minister asked the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to intensify measures to prevent further spread of the avian H5N1 influenza virus.

The report said that influenza A has spread to people in 14 provinces and cities throughout the country, with fifty detected cases, of whom 18 had died of the influenza A in five provinces of Ha Tay, Bac Ninh, Ha Nam, Nam Dinh and Ho Chi Minh City. No vaccine for the disease has been created to date.

The Ministry of Health called for a joint effort among relevant ministries and agencies to fight against the epidemic. It also worked closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) to take preventive measures and ensure quarantine methods, as well as environment sterilization so as to curb any further spread of the disease.

The ministry will work closely with other agencies to set up a national steering committee for bird flu control and prevention.

Also on Monday, the Veterinary Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that the bird flu had spread to 27 out of 64 cities and provinces across the country, with around 3.5 million chickens having been culled. Bird flu-affected provinces include Long An, Tien Giang, Can Tho, Vinh Long, An Giang, Dong Thap, Ben Tre, HCM City, Tay Ninh, Binh Duong, Thanh Hoa, Ha Tay, Hoa Binh, Son La, Ha Nam, Phu Tho, Yen Bai, Nam Dinh, Bac Giang, Thai Binh, Tra Vinh, Dong Nai, Ca Mau, Hau Giang, Quang Ninh, Bac Ninh and Hai Phong.

To prevent an epidemic, the Ministry intensified inspection and prevention of transport of chickens outside flu-affected areas, used chemicals for sterilization, as well as updated information in the media right after new cases detected.

Poultry-based share prices take a beating 27 January 2004 09:25:38 GMT

Share prices of companies in the poultry business took a beating yesterday from the market's knee-jerk reaction to the growing bird flu scare, but demand for Malaysian chickens is actually expected to grow in the short term.

Share prices of poultry products companies fell by between 2 per cent and 13.5 per cent as Indonesia and Thailand reported cases of bird flu.

While local investors voted with their feet, poultry traders are reporting more orders for chickens from Singapore after the republic stopped importing them from Thailand.

Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Poultry Traders Association adviser Dr Lee Chong Meng said Singapore food processors will increase purchases of Malaysian poultry products to make up for the ban on Thai chickens.

He also anticipated increased orders from Malaysian processors that traditionally import from Thailand.

Lee told said that Malaysia exports between 250,000 to 300,000 live chickens to Singapore daily, which is 50 per cent of the island's daily requirement.

He now expects Malaysian breeders to get a portion of the 300,000 frozen birds that Singapore imports daily from Thailand.

Since January 15 Singapore had suspended imports of live and frozen chickens from Thailand to prevent the spread of the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus.

Malaysia imposed a ban on Thai birds last Friday. Malaysian food processors normally import frozen chickens from Thailand because they are cheaper and specific chicken parts can be ordered.

Lee said Malaysia has enough chickens to satisfy domestic consumption as well as exports. However, any increase in exports is expected to be small compared with the overall poultry industry valued at RM6 billion annually.

Lee said chickens are slaughtered every 40 to 45 days, and if there is any increased demand, the cycle can be shortened to produce more meat.

"The only difference would be whether the chicken weighs 2kg or 2.2 kg," he said.

An increase in demand also has the effect of stabilising the price of chickens post-Chinese New Year. "Traditionally over the past 30 years, the prices of chicken drop by 10 per cent after Chinese New Year," he said. "Improved demand would allow the prices to be maintained at the current level." Leong Hup Holdings Bhd executive director Datuk Francis Lau said it was business as usual for the industry. Leong Hup is one of Malaysia's largest producers of chickens.

Furious EU warns of long ban on imports of Thailand's poultry from 27 January 2004 09:09:44 GMT

The European Union said yesterday its ban on poultry imports from Thailand was likely to remain for some time, reflecting fierce criticism of Bangkok's slow response to the outbreak of avian flu.

It comes just days after Thailand confirmed an outbreak of the highly contagious disease, which has killed a six-year-old Thai boy and six people in Vietnam and threatens to lay waste large parts of south-east Asia's poultry industry.

EU member states and the European Commission are furious at what they see as an attempted cover-up by the Thai authorities.

Such suspicions were confirmed over the weekend, when Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister, admitted that officials had for weeks been harbouring suspicions but had wanted to avoid public panic in the absence of hard evidence.

A spokeswoman for David Byrne, EU health commissioner, said: "It is hard to see for the time being that this ban can be lifted in a short time given the scale of the outbreak, given the necessity to regain confidence and trust and also given the need to establish the facts by an independent assessment."

Thailand exports 120,000 tonnes of chicken a year to the EU, its second biggest market after Japan.

China probes duck deaths amid bird flu fears from 27 January 2004 09:08:25 GMT

Chinese authorities are probing the deaths of hundreds of ducks on a farm in southern Guangxi, Hong Kong media reported on Monday, but a Chinese official said there were no reports of bird flu in the country.

Hong Kong's Cable TV said Chinese officials did a poultry cull last Thursday in and around the farm in the village of Dingdang in the province of Guangxi, which lies just north of Vietnam, where the deadly H5N1 bird flu has killed at least six people and ravaged the chicken population.

US chicken exports rise as Asian bird flu spreads from 27 January 2004 09:05:34 GMT

U.S. chicken exports to Asia have begun rising to fill a supply gap as a bird flu virus strikes down millions of chickens from Pakistan to Japan, industry sources said on Monday.

The chicken sales come at a time when the $3.2 billion U.S. beef export sector remains locked down after top importers like Japan banned beef from the United States, following the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, disclosed on Dec. 23.

Thailand, the world's fourth-largest poultry exporter, has been hit hard by the virus, as have Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. Seven people have died, sparking fears reminiscent of the SARS virus which emerged in China in 2002, spread to more than 30 nations and killed 800 people.

"It's possible we could see some benefit. There's an opportunity to fill the supply from Thailand," said Ray Atkinson, spokesman for Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride Corp. (nyse: PPC - news - people), the the No. 2 U.S. poultry and chicken producer.

The United States is the world's top chicken exporter.

Pilgrim's Pride on Monday said first-quarter net earnings more than tripled on increased exports and as strong U.S. demand drove prices higher.

Tyson Foods Inc. (nyse: TSN - news - people), the No. 1 U.S. meat company, was already reaping some benefits from the bird flu virus, whose rapid spread through Asia was described by the World Health Organization as "historically unprecedented."

"We are seeing and do expect to see some positive benefit as a result of disruptions in some of the Asian production," said Tyson's chief administrative officer, Greg Lee.

The Boston Globe has a pretty good summary article from its OpEd page ("Bird flu rivals SARS as a global threat" By Madeline Drexler)

And Fox News checks in with an AP story: Experts: Bird Flu Could Kill Millions Tuesday, January 27, 2004

With luck, the world will escape the latest outbreak of bird flu with no more than the six human deaths already blamed on it and the loss of millions of chickens. But public health experts worry of a much greater disaster: A catastrophe they say is among the worst imaginable, a global outbreak of an entirely new form of human flu.

There is no clear sign that will happen. Nevertheless, avian influenza's sudden sweep through Asia, along with its tendency for wholesale mutation, leave many wondering about the bug's potential for rampant spread among humans. It is a possibility the medical journal The Lancet calls "massively frightening."

And finally the first admission from China:
Deadly bird flu leaps into China Tue 27 January, 2004 15:20 By Sasithorn Simaporn

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The bird flu rampaging through Asia has made the dreaded leap into China ... China's Xinhua news agency said H5N1 strain of the bird flu -- which can cross to humans and has already killed eight people in neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand -- had killed ducks in the southern province of Guanxi.

Bird flu risks becoming global epidemic 27 January, 2004

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies)

...Marthen Malore, a veterinarian and researcher at the Bogor’s Institute of Agriculture, said that last November she identified H5N1 infections at Banten chicken farms in east Java. Department of Animal Husbandry general director, Sofjan Sudardjat, when he learned of the situation, said he preferred to not release the news, since the virus was of the A-type strain, which cannot be transmitted to humans.

In Laos, a chicken farm near the capital, Vientiane, resulted positive after virus tests were conducted there. According to the FAO, at least 700 chickens recently died in Vientiane. There have been no cases of human infection. FAO spokesman, Diderik de Vleeschauwer, said that authorities sent some test specimens to Thailand and results will be ready in the next few days. Singkham Phounvisay, director of the country’s Department of Animal Husbandry, said that that the virus still has not been accurately identified. According to Laotian officials the cause of death in chickens is not due to the H5N1 virus. At any rate, the government has launched preventive measures by identifying contaminated farms, distributing safety suits to farmers and gathering information on a daily basis.

Two new suspicious cases of human infection were reported today in Cambodia. Both a man and a boy, from a region north of Phnom Penh, had an unusual fever after their swans died last week. There blood was taken for analysis and resulted positive for the H5N1 virus.

More news reports:

China Finds Birds With Virulent Strain of Flu in 3 Provinces By KEITH BRADSHER New York Times Published: January 28, 2004

BANGKOK, Jan. 27 — China said late on Tuesday that avian influenza had been found in fowl in three regions, making it the latest Asian country to confirm cases of the dangerous virus, which has killed at least nine people so far. The official New China News Agency said lab tests had confirmed that ducks were infected at a farm in Guangxi Province, in the south near the Vietnamese border. Preliminary tests also showed bird flu among chickens at a household in Hubei Province and among ducks at a household in Hunan Province, both in central China.

CDC issues first bird flu warning: U.S. doctors should watch for possible cases from abroad The Associated Press Updated: 6:26 p.m. ET Jan. 27, 2004

In the first warning to U.S. citizens about bird flu, the government urged doctors Tuesday to ask patients with flu-like symptoms if they have traveled to places in Asia where bird flu has broken out.

Indonesia Plans Less Aggressive Approach to Containing Bird Flu Tim Johnston Jakarta 27 Jan 2004, 22:40 UTC

As governments throughout the region take vigorous steps to contain the spread of bird flu, Indonesia plans a less aggressive approach.

In contrast to the reactions of the governments of Thailand and Vietnam, Indonesian officials say they will not carry out a mass cull of chickens that might be infected with bird flu.

The minister of agriculture, Bungaran Saragih, has told reporters that, because the virus is so widespread, culling would reduce the poultry population too drastically. He says economic considerations played a part in the decision to plan only limited culls.

The regional government in the east of the island of Java says it is intending to kill nearly four million birds, but adds that the meat would then be sold to the public.

Although Indonesian health officials say that meat from infected chickens should be safe for consumption after proper cooking, the East Java plan drew sharp criticism from international officials.

Dr. Georg Petersen, the head of the World Health Organization's Indonesia office, said "the main reason you should destroy chickens from infected farms is that the dead chickens should not infect others and other chickens, so to destroy chickens and burn or bury the carcasses is a way of hindering infection of new chickens from dead ones."

The WHO recommends killing all birds in areas where the flu virus has been found and burying their carcasses and all waste. The United Nations agency also says all farmers and workers involved in the culling should wear masks and protective clothing. The virus is carried in the waste and secretions of the chickens.

By conservative estimates, about four million of Indonesia's 800 million chickens have already died from the virus. The fear is that, like elsewhere, the influenza will infect humans, although the Ministry of Health said Wednesday they had had no reports of people being infected.

28 January

Owner of duck farm hit by bird flu under medical monitoring (Xinhua)

NANNING, Jan. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- Huang Shengde, owner of the duck farm which has been confirmed to be hit by bird flu in southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is now under around-clock medical monitoring.

The national bird flu reference laboratory confirmed Tuesday that the death of ducks in Huang's duck farm was caused by the bird flu virus, but no infections in human beings have been found.

Following reports of ducks died on the duck farm in Dingdang Town, Long'an County last Friday, local government sent the samples to the lab. After testing, the lab confirmed that the deaths were caused by the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus.

...At the road crossing in the Dingdang town, policemen are on duty for possible emergency. But life is getting on normally as trucks full of sugar cane are rushing to and fro between sugar farm and sugar refinery mill. It's now harvest time for sugar cane,a major farm product in the county.

"We have been told to hand in all the poultry we fed at home inthe past two days. We have already done it," said Lu Chaoqian, a resident in the town. Lu said that government officials have also sent disinfections from door to door and asked people not to cultivate poultry in the next 30 years.

Sceptical of bird flu denials (MalaysiaKini)

Tai Lo Chin 4:36pm Wed Jan 28th, 2004

According to Health Minister Chua Jui Meng, there were no reported cases of avian influenza to date and swabs taken from people with flu symptoms have been confirmed by the Institute of Medical Research to contain the "normal influenza virus" (‘Nation wide alert, precautions against bird flu’).

Does "no reported case" mean that there could be suspected cases but not yet reported or confirmed?

This scepticism of semantics is perhaps understandable.

In the case of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in April last year, health director-general said that there were no Sars-related cases. Then a gag order was issued directing the media not to report deaths attributable to the virus.

Within barely 24 hours of Pak Lah’s (then as acting prime minister) call for transparency, the nation - hitherto supposedly free from Sars - was astonished to learn about the government having received 41 ‘notifications’ since March 18, 2003, but there being a rarefied distinction between ‘suspected’ and ‘probable’ cases (based on World Health Organisation’s classification), there were no cases in the latter category.

One gets the impression that for the authorities, it is almost as if such bad news cannot be divulged, except by a system of initial denial, to be followed progressively by larger and larger driblets of truth being let out to cushion public confidence, which if done otherwise may collapse.

Bird flu has become more virulent ( 28.01.2004 - 09:15 By Tan Ee Lyn

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The unusually large number of ducks dying from bird flu in southern China indicates the bug has become more virulent, which will put more people at risk of contracting it, Hong Kong scientists say.

They also raised the alarm about chilled and frozen poultry meat, saying the deadly H5N1 virus could survive for years in temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F), but repeated that it can be killed if meat is cooked properly.

China confirmed on Tuesday that H5N1 had killed ducks in southern Guangxi province, making it the tenth place in Asia to be afflicted with a disease that has killed eight people in the region in the last few weeks.

"H5 viruses are generally less fatal to ducks, so it is uncommon for so many ducks to die. This means this particular H5N1 strain has become more virulent," said virologist Leo Poon from the University of Hong Kong.

"This means it can cause extensive deaths in poultry and this may in turn increase the chance of more people contracting it (if they come in direct contact with sick birds)."

Asia to unite against bird flu at Bangkok talks Posted: 3:42 PM (Manila Time) | Jan. 28, 2004 Agence France-Presse

BANGKOK - Bird flu-hit Asian nations will pledge to work together and with global health agencies to intensify efforts to combat the epidemic at crisis talks here Wednesday, according to a draft statement.

"We are fully aware that the outbreak of the disease has not only affected the poultry industry but also emerged as a serious threat to human health," said the statement from half-day talks being attended by 12 nations and blocs.

"Containment will require closer cooperation among governments, communities and businesses, through the appropriate regional and international organizations and other mechanisms as necessary," it said.

Strategy on Bird Flu Has Human Risks, Officials Say Lack of Safeguards In Poultry Slaughter May Help Alter Virus By Alan Sipress Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, January 28, 2004

BANGKOK, Jan. 27 -- As bird flu continued to spread in Asia, international health and agriculture officials warned Tuesday that the chief strategy for containing the disease -- the mass slaughter of chickens -- could inadvertently help turn the virus into a form far more threatening to humans.

U.N. officials have pressed countries in the region to accelerate their culling of chickens but say the contact between poultry and the people killing them poses a risk by creating more chances for avian influenza to hijack genes from ordinary human flu.

...In Thailand, many of the estimated 3,000 soldiers and laborers conducting the slaughter now wear masks, caps, gloves and boots. But few are supplied with the goggles that international health officials say are needed to prevent infected droplets from getting in their eyes.

About 15,000 people are involved in killing chickens in Vietnam, and U.N. officials say they suspect that many of them have little or no protective gear because the country is so strapped for resources. "It's like sending a soldier to the front line without a helmet and a flak jacket," said Bob Dietz, a spokesman for the World Health Organization in Hanoi.

The disclosure Tuesday by government officials in Laos that avian flu had been confirmed in chickens there is particularly troubling because of the poor condition of its public health system, according to Peter Cordingley, a regional WHO spokesman based in Manila. Health officials have expressed concern about whether Laos and other developing countries have the expertise and equipment to safely contain the disease.

Officials line up to blame migratory birds for flu spread (ChannelNewsAsia)

HONG KONG: As bird flu takes a greater hold of Asia and answers are sought to what brought the scourge, officials are lining up to blame migratory and wild birds for spreading the virus.

National health and agriculture chiefs have joined World Health Organisation (WHO) officials in making foreign birds the scapegoats for the present outbreaks.

At the same time experts are providing more and more scientific evidence to support the politicians' claims.

The Philippines Wednesday became the latest country to suggest migratory birds were the cause of unprecedented outbreaks in 10 different countries.

"Don't feed them (wild birds), don't go near them, don't touch them," Ronel Avila, quarantine chief at the Philippines agriculture department warned a nation that regularly hunts and eats wild fowl.

On Monday, Hong Kong health chief Yeoh Eng-kiong made no bones about his government's stance.

"I have ... asked (agriculture department) colleagues to step up our surveillance on wild birds," Yeoh said. "This is still the current proximate, that the wild birds -- migratory birds -- are carrying the virus."

Virus Hitting Chicken Immunity May Be Cause Of Bird Flu from Wednesday, January 28, 2004

HONG KONG - A virus that weakens the immune system of chickens is likely to have set the stage for the rampant spread of bird flu across Asia, a Hong Kong scientist said Tuesday.

Frederick Leung, a zoology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said his studies conducted since 1996 showed that Hong Kong chickens hit by bird flu were usually struck by the infectious bursal disease virus about six months earlier.

Leung believes the IBDV probably also hit chicken farms across Asia that are currently suffering from bird flu, although he has no data about IBDV outside Hong Kong.

In 1996, an IBDV outbreak killed more than half of the chickens in farms that reported the disease, Leung said. About six months later, in 1997, Hong Kong suffered an outbreak of avian flu that killed six humans and led to the slaughter of 1.4 million chickens.

However, so far, no chicken farms in Hong Kong have reported bird flu in the current outbreak sweeping across Asia, and there has been no recent outbreak of IBDV here, Leung said.

Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos have reported cases of avian influenza. At least eight people have died of the disease in Thailand and Vietnam, most of them children.

IBDV, which causes diarrhea and sleepiness in chickens, occurs almost annually around the world. It normally kills fewer than 5% of infected chickens. But if the death rate jumps to 20%, bird flu is likely to follow, Leung said.

Vaccines against IBDV are only available for strains detected in North America and Europe, there isn't a vaccine for the strains found in Asia, Leung said.

"If we have vaccines against IBDV and good management in Asia, we can break the disease cycle and reduce the risk of bird flu," he said. It would take about six to eight months to produce IBDV vaccines, he said.

"The chickens should be fine if we are able to vaccinate them against both IBDV and H5N1 (bird flu)," he said, calling for regional cooperation.

The World Health Organization couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Leung's theory.

Thai CP Foods Chairman Says Co's Chickens Bird-Flu Free

BANGKOK (Dow Jones)--No chickens at Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Foods PCL (CPF.TH) are infected with the bird-flu virus, the company's top executive said Wednesday.

"We raise our chickens indoors. And the air passing through the farms has to be clean...How could our chickens possibly get the bird flu," said CPF Chairman Dhanin Chearavanont at a business seminar.

Dhanin said employees who rear CPF chickens are required to spend the whole 45-day life cycle inside the farm building until the brood is ready for sale.

"They don't go out of the farms so as to avoid exposure to the air outside," Dhanin said.

HCM City takes drastic measures to control bird flu epidemic (01/28/2004 -- 16:57GMT+7) from

HCM City, Jan. 28 (VNA) - Ho Chi Minh City is taking drastic measures to contain bird flu epidemic, which has already spread to at least 28 of Viet Nam's 64 cities and provinces, killing some 3.7 million chickens.

Le Truong Giang, Deputy Director of the municipal Health Department, said his department has proposed the veterinary and environment sectors to provide lists of all employees participating in preventing the epidemic to take samples for testing and monitoring their health.

The department also asked provinces not to transfer patients suspected of being infected with the H5N1 virus to the city to prevent the disease from spreading. At the same time, it is well prepared to assist provincial healthcare services in on-the-spot disease diagnoses and treatment.

According to the municipal Steering Committee for Bird Flu Control, four communes in the outlying district of Binh Chanh and district 9 proved positive with H5N1 virus of bird flu and the strain was also found in some poultry farms in the outskirts of Cu Chi and Thu Duc.

The city has so far buried 77 percent of chicken flocks and 87 percent of duck flocks. The mass slaughtering will be continued in two or three days time.

India sniffs a windfall (Asia Times) By Indrajit Basu

KOLKATA - While the spreading avian flu has hit poultry exports from China, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia particularly hard, India's poultry products, which turned uncompetitive a few years back, stand to gain from the misfortune of these countries.

In line with major importers such as South Korea and Japan, India has started closing its doors to poultry imports from infected regions, but the country's farmers believe that the scare has offered them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break into the markets so recently dominated by Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, China, and even smaller countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Industry sources say that with rising global poultry prices, as a result of dwindling poultry exports from the aggressive exporters in the Asian region, India is once again competitive. "The west Asian countries will be the biggest markets for India and the top items in demand will be hatching eggs, processed meat and day-old chicks," said an official from Ventakateshwara Hatcheries, one of India's largest organized poultry producers. "But we see Indian products increasingly becoming products of choice in Korea as well as neighboring countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma [Myanmar]." Others are hoping that by mid-February, India will shift from virtually zero poultry exports to a modest global presence.

Although India's poultry exports have never been worth talking about, the country until a few years back did manage to export some produce, mainly to West Asian countries. But owing to the aggressive and competitive exports of other Asian countries, India lost even that market.

"Prices will reach at least $1,200 per ton, at which India is competitive. The domestic demand itself keeps companies busy. But if exports happen, they will reduce the glut within the country and improve prospects overall," industry sources said. Moreover, "India is still safe because it uses indigenous pure line birds for breeding," said Malati Puranik, who advises poultry companies on abattoirs and post-harvest management.

"But it is still too early to tell how far India will be able to meet international demand. There just isn't enough processing capacity available in India to create a substantial increase in exports," Puranik said. Indeed, with just three processing plants certified to export, the moot point is, to what extent is India's poultry industry ready to cash in?

"The problem is that most Indian companies are just not geared towards quality control, which is the first requirement of exports," said Vinay Adhye of Agribusiness Solutions, a consultancy company. "Except for the top three companies, no one is able to export at a moment's notice without adding to costs significantly. Therefore, the lack of agility could result in lost business."

Still, an official at Godrej Agrovet, the country's second largest poultry processor, said that India, as a standard operating practice, had put in place precautionary measures more than 15 days before the first bird flu deaths were reported overseas. "Consequently, there's little likelihood of bird flu being present in Indian poultry at all, which will put our products in good stead."

Asian emergency meeting thrashes over bird flu (AP, in Globe and Mail)

Bangkok — Two sisters in Vietnam became the latest victims of Asia's bird-flu crisis on Wednesday, as ministers from across the region convened an emergency meeting with international health experts in the Thai capital.
The bird flu has raced through Asia's poultry farms and killed at least 10 people in as many countries.
Bangkok — the site of the meeting — was itself declared a “danger zone” after the virus was detected in a fighting cock and other fowl around the sprawling metropolis, Thai officials said.
Fending off accusations that it initially tried to cover up the emergency to protect its lucrative poultry export sector, Thailand said it would fire bureaucrats found to have failed to report the true extent of the disease that has now been detected in about one-third of its provinces.

Bird flu could be bad for other flyers By ELIZABETH KNIGHT January 29, 2004 (

The chances of another major international incident capable of sending the airline and tourism industries into commercial shock would have been fairly long.
These industries have been rocked since 2001 by a series of devastating events, beginning with the September 11 terrorist attacks, followed by the Iraq war and SARS.
But the bird flu sweeping across Asia could become the latest market-flattening exogenous event.
At this stage travellers are reacting pretty calmly to the health threat as countries in Asia are busy slaughtering millions of chickens and ducks.
In part the calm is the result of the fact that there is no evidence that the flu can be passed from person to person nor caught by humans from eating poultry.
But the World Health Organisation is now saying it is fairly certain that this will happen.
When SARS was discovered it was also initially ignored by most of the travelling public and underplayed by Asian governments.
In its final stages it had hit panic proportions in most minds - which resulted in a slump in several Asian economies. And the aviation market in the region almost ground to a halt.

Birds could be carrier of flu virus to RP (Sun Star, Manila)

MANILA -- The agriculture department on Wednesday said the avian influenza, the virus causing the bird flu, could still spread to the Philippines through migratory birds, but health officials said the possibility is "very minimal".

President Arroyo also called on the public not to panic amidst the reported outbreak of bird flu epidemic in some Asian countries, saying all precautionary measures are in place.

China was likely source of bird flu epidemic: report (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The outbreak of bird flu that is sweeping south-east Asia broke out a year ago and probably began in southern China, British publication New Scientist says.
"The outbreak began as early as the first half of 2003, probably in China," the British scientific weekly says, citing health experts whom it did not identify.
"A combination of official cover-up and questionable farming practices allowed it to turn into the epidemic now under way."
The report is carried in next Saturday's issue of New Scientist, a copy of which was made available to the press on Wednesday.
It coincided with a crisis meeting in Bangkok of Asian countries battling an epidemic of the dangerous virus among their poultry stocks, and China's confirmation that it had recorded outbreaks of it on farms in three provinces hundreds of kilometres apart. New Scientist says the suspected cause for the widespread dissemination of the H5N1 virus was mass vaccination of poultry flocks by Chinese farmers.
Worried after all chickens in Hong Kong were slaughtered to curb an outbreak of the disease in 1997, Chinese producers started vaccinating their birds with an inactivated H5N1 virus.
"This may have been a mistake," New Scientist says, pointing to the impact from small genetic mismatches that can occur between vaccines and the notoriously mutating flu virus.
The slight mismatch meant that Chinese birds would not be primed to destroy the specific form of the virus with their immune systems.
Instead, they could still harbour the virus but show no symptoms, and so could pass it on in to other flocks when they were traded.
"If the vaccine is not a good match for the virus - as is the case with the H5N1 strain now sweeping Asia - it can still replicate but most animals do not show signs of the disease.
"In this way, the intensive vaccination schemes in south China may have allowed the virus to spread widely without being spotted," New Scientist says.
The strains causing outbreaks in South Korea and Vietnam are very similar, and analyses of strains from other countries are still being analysed.
However, "it looks as if all the outbreaks started with the large-scale distribution of one strain" that appears to have originated in China, the report says.
It added that illicit trade in poultry helped propagate the spread in south-east Asia.
(see the text of the New Scientist story)

Bird flu summit fails to reach consensus (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

AM - Thursday, 29 January , 2004 08:24:16 Reporter: Peter Lloyd

TONY EASTLEY: They came, they listened, but there was no consensus on how to deal with ASIA's bird flu crisis. The Bangkok Crisis summit brought together all ten affected countries, but the World Health Organisation's warning that they should hurry up the cull of chickens fell on some deaf ears, with Indonesia saying it was still leaving it up to farmers to carry out their own slaughter, if they wished.

South East Asia Correspondent Peter Lloyd reports.

PETER LLOYD: Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came as close as he has ever gone to publicly acknowledging the deceit and incompetence that has characterised his Government's handing of the outbreak.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: Mistakes and human errors could always be possible. We must make sure at all times that we are always on the top of it. Whatever may have happened this is what the Thai Government is doing right now.

PETER LLOYD: Mr Thaksin's official spokesman was more colourful, saying government agencies had, quote, "screwed up" but he also stopped short of admitting the outbreak was covered up to protect the country's $2-billion poultry export trade.

The World Health Organisation and other experts gave ministers from affected countries a stark warning that they had to stop the H5N1 strain of bird flu virus spreading or risk the disease mutating into an even more deadly form.

Afterwards, Thailand's Foreign Minister left no doubt that the message had been well understood. More than once Surakiart Sathirathai stressed a new commitment to transparency. It was a coded message to trading partners like the European Union, which has attacked Thailand for being less than truthful about bird flu.

The Minister said that more would now be done.

SURAKIART SATHIRATHAI: This includes improving surveillance and response systems, research and development capacities and sharing of information and technology.

We agree to intensify national, regional and international efforts to tackle the present outbreak and prevent future ones through greater transparency and promptness of action.

PETER LLOYD: But even before the delegates had left the podium, Indonesia, another nation in the dock for lacking transparency, said it was still not going to follow the WHO's advice and carry out a compulsory cull of all chickens in virus-affected areas. Instead the man from Indonesia's Department of Agriculture, Budi Tri Akoso, said it was being left to the discretion of poultry farmers.

BUDI TRI AKOSO: Doing mass culling, I think it would be difficult for the government because this has already spread to many other places and we also have some small farmers that look at it in a different area.

JOURNALIST: So the Government is leaving it up to individual farmers to decide whether to cull birds?

BUDI TRI AKOSO: Ah, at the moment, yes.

PETER LLOYD: It was hardly encouraging, given the WHO has spent the last three weeks urging affected governments to take control and speed up the slaughter.

Sarawak bans chicken import (The Star, Malaysia)

KUCHING: Sarawak has banned the import of live or frozen chicken parts as well as eggs, following the outbreak of bird flu in neighbouring countries. Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam said the state government had been informed of bird flu cases in Kalimantan by the Malaysian Consulate in Pontianak. He said the authorities concerned had been put on alert, particularly along the Sarawak-Kalimantan border, to deter the smuggling of chicken. In Kuala Lumpur, the largest

Reactions to avian flu infections don't inspire confidence (Straits Times) Lee Kim Chew

WHEN Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra went on television last week and ate grilled chicken to dispel fears that Thai farms were infected by a deadly bird virus, it was a lesson too late for learning.
Because his government had denied for weeks that avian flu was killing the chickens, grievous damage was done to Thailand's huge poultry export business and its credibility
...Sadly, Thailand's first reactions on avian flu mirrored China's when Sars first struck in Guangdong province.
Driven by commercial instincts, its impulse was to keep the problem under wraps.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Thai officials knew about the outbreak of an unidentified strain of avian flu in November.
But they did not act. They insisted that the mortalities were caused by chicken cholera, not the deadly H5N1 strain that had devastated the poultry farms in South Korea, Vietnam and Japan.
The inaction has everything to do with the big money at stake. As Asia's largest poultry exporter, Thailand enjoyed overseas sales of more than US$1.2 billion (S$2.05 billion) last year.
Because it placed commercial interests above public health, the damage was done and its poultry sector will now take a long time to recover.
The Indonesians face a similar problem. Of their 800 million chickens, about 4.7 million have died from the virus.
Like the Thais, the Indonesians concealed the information from the public for weeks. They now insist that other avian flu strains, not the H5N1 virus, are killing the chickens.
Like the lackadaisical response to the terrorist threat until the Bali bombers stuck, Indonesian officials also disregard the WHO's advice to cull the afflicted flocks.

Instead, they will vaccinate the chickens and allow the sale of meat from infected flocks to help farmers cover their costs.
This is a risky move. Like Sars, little is known about the origins of avian flu and the way it gets transmitted. A nightmare scenario is one in which the virus jumps species and mutates to infect humans.
The question is whether the Indonesian authorities can vaccinate all the chickens - assuming this is effective - prevent their transportation and control the movement of people in the farms.

Because of little compensation from their governments, some farmers in Thailand and Vietnam are selling instead of culling their chickens.
The avian flu, a painful and costly episode for the affected countries, is far from over.
The international agencies which monitor the diseases can warn governments of the dangers, but they have no power to compel them to act in their best interests.
Thus far, the reactions do not inspire confidence.

Bird flu's return reopens old cultural wounds (Channel News Asia)

HONG KONG: Doubts about the future of southern China's cherished tradition of eating freshly slaughtered poultry have resurfaced after bird flu was discovered in southwestern Guangxi province.
But renewed calls for a ban on the sale of live chickens in public markets are likely to meet fierce cultural resistance to changes in a generations-old gastronomic tradition.
The toothy question of abolishing the so-called wet markets has come up repeatedly since the first outbreak of bird flu in Hong Kong in 1997, when six people died after the H5N1 strain mutated and transferred to humans.
The markets are commonly found in the region, and in neighbouring parts of Southeast Asia where for generations consumers have bought their poultry live and had it slaughtered at the stalls, often moments before cooking.
However, scientists and flu experts argue the stalls are breeding grounds for disease, where open contact with chickens increases the chance of transmission of bird-borne viruses to humans.
Such fowl-human contact has already led to at least eight deaths from bird flu infection in Vietnam and Thailand in the present outbreaks, they say.
Revelations that the flu was present in Guangxi, Hunan and Hubei provinces, reverberated through Hong Kong, where the government was already reconsidering plans to close live-market stalls and open a central poultry abattoir.
"We will have a public consultation and see what the public and trade thinks of the idea before we do anything," Hong Kong health secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong said during a tour of a wet market in the city's Kowloon district.
Hong Kong City University biologist Desmond O'Toole, who for years has led calls for the markets' closure, said the move should be made a priority.
"It's not just good for getting rid of the bird flu, it will prevent other diseases too, like salmonella," O'Toole told AFP.
The proposal has strong opposition, naturally, from those who work in the poultry trade.
The owners and workers of Hong Kong's 150 chicken farms are supported by their brothers across the border in opposing the move, which they say threatens thousands of jobs in the territory and in neighbouring Guangdong province.
They estimate losses from such closures would run to 23 million Hong Kong dollars (2.96m US dollars) a month.
The industry still bears the scars of the centralisation of the slaughtering of duck, goose and other waterfowl -- considered the natural carriers of the deadly H5N1 virus strain -- which led to the loss of thousands of jobs.
Chicken market closures are also likely to meet stiff opposition from Hong Kong consumers, who buy an estimated 100,000 live chickens each day.
If the issue was simply one of economics, governments on either side of the border would have little trouble imposing the plan. However, it isn't.
"This is a very controversial issue and it is very complicated," Yeoh said.
Market closure calls touch a very sensitive bone in southern China, where such proposals are characterised as acts of cultural vandalism.
In a region where rapid development has ushered increasing Westernisation and an erosion of traditional values, the consumption of fresh poultry is considered one of the last bastions of traditional southern Chinese culture.
"It is an important part of Chinese cuisine," explained Teddy Leung, manager of Spring Moon, the upscale Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong's famed Peninsula Hotel.
The Cantonese are very proud of their gastronomic heritage and frown at the introduction of outside cooking techniques or ingredients, such as chilled or frozen chicken.
"Chefs and cooks will always buy fresh chicken because Chinese people will not eat anything else," added Leung. "If we are forced to serve chilled chicken for any reason we would have to tell our customers beforehand."
Such has been the grass-level opposition to O'Toole's campaign that it has often been met with ridicule.
A taste-test organised by the South China Morning Post newspaper in June 2002 disproved in almost carnival-like fashion his claims that there was no difference between the taste of fresh and chilled chicken: fresh chicken is firmer, it concluded.
"You cannot fool Chinese people with inferior chicken," said Leung. "We can tell the difference."

29 January

Indonesia orders mass bird flu cull (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Indonesia on Thursday ordered the immediate killing of all poultry infected with bird flu as it started to fall in line with other Asian nations following pressure from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"We will do it. We will destroy those infected. The good ones will be saved," Welfare Minister Yusuf Kalla told reporters after meeting President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
It was unclear whether the cull would extend to healthy poultry in farms or areas where bird flu infections had been found, a measure which agriculture experts say is vital if the virus is to be stopped.
"However much it will cost, we will help the farmers," said Mr Kalla, adding that culls will be carried out "anywhere" fowls are infected.
He said the government would provide free chicks to farmers whose fowls are to be killed.

China bans outdoor slaughter, quarantines farmers to curb bird flu (Channel News Asia)

BEIJING: China has stepped up efforts to curb the spread of bird flu, banning the outdoor slaughter of poultry in Beijing and quarantining farmers at the scenes of local outbreaks.
The capital has imposed a ban on the slaughter of poultry in market places and the sale of uninspected meat and poultry products in order to protect the city of 13 million from the deadly H5N1 virus strain, the China Daily said.
Beijing also introduced tighter controls and inspection of poultry products entering from other regions of the country, the paper said, quoting Liu Jian, vice director of the Beijing Municipal Industry and Commerce Bureau.

CombiMatrix Announces First Commercially Available Microarray for ``Bird Flu'' Influenza A Virus (biowire2k)

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 29, 2004--Acacia Research Corporation (Nasdaq:CBMX) (Nasdaq:ACTG) announced today that its CombiMatrix group has made commercially available the first microarray designed for the H5N1 "Bird Flu" influenza A virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) appealed Tuesday, Jan. 27th for technical assistance and expert advice to help stop the threat to humans and agriculture posed by this virus. CombiMatrix utilized its proprietary probe-design software and ability to rapidly synthesize novel DNA microarrays to respond within two days.

CombiMatrix's microarray allows for the identification of the H5N1 virus, and importantly, also allows the tracking of mutations that can occur in its genetic makeup as it goes through patterns of bird and human infection.

Bird Flu is a member of the influenza A virus family, the same family responsible for the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed 20-40 million people. According to Dr. Amit Kumar, President and CEO of CombiMatrix, "Mutations in the genetic makeup of this family of influenza viruses have in the past greatly affected infectiousness and lethality of individual strains. Our microarray, with its ability to help track such mutations, may be of assistance in dealing with this virus and its impact upon public health. Similar to our efforts with the SARS virus, this new array demonstrates our ability to rapidly respond to emerging diseases."

Probe into 'botched' bird flu jabs By Hamish McDonald China Correspondent The Aage (Australia) Beijing January 30, 2004

The World Health Organisation is investigating if bungled efforts to inoculate China's chicken and duck flocks from bird flu last year have triggered the epidemic sweeping Asia, which has killed at least eight people so far.

The UN body yesterday confirmed it was seeking details of bird vaccination programs from Chinese health and farm authorities. Respected British magazine New Scientist says "official cover-up and questionable farming practices" allowed the bird flu epidemic to start undetected in China early last year.

The magazine said a decision by China's poultry producers to vaccinate birds after an outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997 may have contributed to the current crisis in 10 countries, from South Korea to Pakistan.

But Chinese vice-minister of agriculture Qi Jingfa, attending a regional crisis meeting in Bangkok on bird flu, yesterday denounced the New Scientist claim as "purely a guess, a groundless guess . . . We have had very strict surveillance".

China going all out to halt bird flu By Antoaneta Bezlova (Asia Times)

BEIJING - Rushing to prevent a repetition of the public panic over the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak last year, China is pulling out all stops to arrest the spread of deadly avian virus discovered in southern part of the country.

The mass culling of poultry in three provinces was reported by the state-run media, and top health experts went on state television and radio to give advice on public hygiene and assuage public jitters.

"Prevention work against bird flu dates back over 100 years and many nations have accumulated valuable experience, which proves the feasibility of preventing a serious outbreak," said Jia Youling, chief expert on farming with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The bird-influenza crisis, which has now spread over 10 Asian countries, not only may affect the Chinese economy but may cause a revolution in the eating habits of millions in the world's most populous country.

The growing affluence of the population has seen meat consumption jump fivefold in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the introduction of US-style battery chicken farming in China has helped make chicken so cheap that it now rivals pork in popularity.

The politics of poultry (Guardian Unlimited)

While Thailand faces mounting pressure over its handling of the bird flu outbreak, Indonesia has been given an easy ride. John Aglionby explains

...World Health Organisation representatives in Jakarta have been much less aggressive and vocal than their counterparts in Thailand, thus alleviating pressure on ministers either to act with more rapidity or explain their five months of silence. Demonstrations usually occur for the mildest of reasons in Indonesia but no one has taken to the streets over bird flu. Similarly, there has been little enthusiasm in the media to call the government to account for its lack of action. And even the normally vocal consumer groups are keeping their powder inexplicably dry.

One consumer activist said she could not get worked up about bird flu. "It's only a few chickens," she said. "We've got bigger battles to fight."

This does make some sense. There are only 1.3bn chickens in Indonesia - not a huge number for a population of 215 million - and the vast majority are bred for internal consumption. This means that, unlike in Thailand, where the export industry alone is worth some £1bn a year, there will not be much noticeable economic disruption.

Perhaps this explains why, with the general election only nine weeks away, no one is even attempting to garner political capital out of the crisis. This contrasts very sharply with Thailand, where the opposition Democrats - who currently do not have a chance of unseating the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, at next year's polls - are planning no confidence motions against the premier, the agriculture minister and his deputy.

The fact that back in Jakarta, opposition parties are hoping to become bedfellows with President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) perhaps goes some way to explaining the silence. A PDIP coalition is still the most likely result of the election and no one wants to go out on a limb over what is still a relatively minor issue and risk exclusion from a future government.

Incompetence in previous crises has also helped shape public expectations. One meat seller in a south Jakarta market said yesterday that she was not at all surprised by what has happened. "Our government does this all the time," she said. "It would have been surprising if they had acted swiftly and decisively."

Chilli growers running out of bird manure

NGKOK - Thailand's fiery chillies, a vital ingredient in the kingdom's renowned cuisine, have reportedly become the latest casualty of the bird flu outbreak as farmers run out of the bird manure needed to grow them.
Hundreds of chilli farmers in Hua Rua district of north-eastern Ubon Ratchathani province are in crisis, owing to a lack of manure to nurture their crops, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.
'We can't use chemical or other organic fertilisers. It must be chicken manure,' a grower in the district famed for its chillies, Mr Chantai Khamdee, told the English-language daily.
Farmers were using their remaining stockpiles of manure frugally because they could not be sure of getting their hands on fresh supplies, he said.
As part of emergency measures introduced after the deadly H5N1 virus was detected in the kingdom last Friday, all poultry products are banned from being transported within a 50km radius of infected areas.
Chicken manure trader Nongkan Orn said her supplies were disappearing fast.

Onus on doctors over bird flu (HK Edition, Felix Lo) 2004-01-30

The government is making it a legal obligation for local doctors to notify the Department of Health of both suspected and confirmed bird flu cases, Secretary for Health and Welfare Yeoh Eng-kiong said yesterday.
The Department of Health will today gazette the H5N1 bird flu as an infectious disease in the First Schedule to the Quarantine and Prevention of Disease Ordinance, he told a press briefing last night.
The act aims to provide sufficient legal basis in the fight to prevent an outbreak of bird flu virus.
Tens of millions of chickens and ducks throughout Asia have died of the disease or been slaughtered. Hong Kong has so far been spared from the disease.

International SOS Launches New Information Web Site on Avian Flu 'Bird Flu' ("The World's Largest Medical Assistance Company")

PHILADELPHIA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 29, 2004--The rapid spread of avian influenza A (H5N1) - commonly known as Bird Flu - across many Asian countries is causing great concern. It is now known to have been responsible for the loss of human life as well as infecting and killing poultry populations.
To help those who may be affected by this situation, International SOS has launched a new Web site on Avian Flu that will give fast access to the most up-to-date information, advice and recommendations. The guide is available free to anyone by visiting the company's website,
"Just as we did last year for the SARS outbreak, International SOS has set up a specific Web site containing all the information on this threat," says Dr. Myles Druckman, Vice President for Medical Assistance, International SOS, from its North American headquarters in Philadelphia. "The Web site has news updates on each country affected and information for travelers. Our medical team is monitoring the situation around the clock."

News of cure lifts Roche share price (Straits Times)

ZURICH - Swiss health-care group Roche said yesterday that its Tamiflu anti-influenza drug could help fight the spread of bird flu to people in Asia, pushing up its shares.
Roche said preclinical trials 'provide reassurance' that Tamiflu could be used against the so-called 'H5N1' influenza strain that has been associated with the recent bird flu outbreak in Asia.
The news helped push Roche's certificates up 0.8 per cent at 130.25 Swiss francs (S$176.36) in an otherwise weaker Swiss market.

WHO Ramps Up Bird Flu Vaccine Efforts Dennis Normile Science Volume 303, Number 5658, Issue of 30 Jan 2004, p. 609.

...Traditional flu vaccine development relies on mixing the target flu virus and a harmless flu strain in chicken eggs and then screening for an appropriate vaccine candidate. This doesn't work for H5N1 because it kills chicken embryos. To sidestep this problem, a group at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, adapted a reverse genetics process in which genes from different viruses are individually cloned and reassembled into an inactivated vaccine virus. Working with the 2003 H5N1 strain, the researchers cloned the two genes that code for the virus's surface glycoproteins: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. The remaining six genes needed for a viable virus were cloned from a "safe" influenza virus strain long used in vaccines. All the cloned genes were introduced into a cell line where replication was initiated. The resultant virus is incapable of causing disease but carries the surface glycoproteins that stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies to H5N1.

Unfortunately, the H5N1 strain circulating this year differs so dramatically from the 2003 strain that a new seed vaccine is needed. Producing it will take at least until late February, according to WHO officials. And that is just the first step. Stöhr explains that normal efficacy trials, which determine if a flu vaccine reduces deaths or hospitalizations, will be difficult to carry out. He also worries that some countries may object to a vaccine based on a genetically modified organism.

Another challenge is that MedImmune Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland, holds the patent for the reverse genetics process. Although company spokesperson Jamie Lacey says that the firm offered "to license our patent rights to the manufacturers of a pandemic vaccine," details remain to be negotiated. And other individuals and institutions hold rights over other aspects of the process used by the St. Jude team. A final issue is how quickly drug manufacturers can ramp up mass production.

"These are humanmade problems and humans can solve them," says Robert Webster, a flu expert who directs the WHO collaborating center at St. Jude. It's unfortunate, he says, but it seems that the only way to focus attention on solutions is for "people to start dying in serious numbers."

30 January

More bird flu cases in Thailand (The Age, Australia)

Thai officials reported four more suspected bird flu cases, including one death, and said the deadly virus had also been detected for the first time in the kingdom's south.
...The first detection of the deadly H5N1 virus was also made in chickens in the kingdom's south, with Phang Nga, nearly 800km south of Bangkok, listed as the 32nd province out of Thailand's 76 to be hit.
"One more affected spot in Takua Pha district in Phang Nga has been listed, so there are now 124 spots, lowered from 147," Somkid said, referring to the precise locations in the provinces that have been declared "hot zones".
Nearly 11 million chickens have been culled by government workers and troops in efforts to contain the disease in Thailand, which has also hit two districts in Bangkok, the sprawling capital home to 10 million people.
The outbreak has spread as far north as Thailand's border with Laos and into its eastern agricultural zone.
The Thai government is facing continuing allegations from furious farmers, opposition MPs and activists that it covered up the initial outbreak of the disease now ravaging poultry across Asia.
The government has denied any deliberate cover-up and said that the fault lay with inefficient government agencies and that heads would roll as a result.

WHO interim recommendations for the protection of persons involved in the mass slaughter of animals potentially infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific, Manila, 26 January 2004)

Avian influenza is a highly contagious disease of birds which is currently epidemic amongst poultry in Asia. Exposure to infected poultry and their feces or dust/soil contaminated with feces) can result in human infection. These recommendations have been developed because human infections have been identified in association with the current poultry epidemic. They will be updated as more information becomes available...

S Korean Health Authorities Inspect People for Bird Flu Symptoms

The Korea Center for Disease Control (KCDC) on Wednesday said it sent inspectors to areas hit by the highly contagious bird flu to check whether any respiratory disease patients possibly became infected with the disease.
The move comes after an increasing number of Asian countries report outbreaks of bird flu, with the human death toll also rising.
A total of 35 inspectors were deployed to 22 hospitals situated near flu-struck areas to survey whether any people who were hospitalized for respiratory diseases from mid-December could have been exposed to the bird flu virus.
The bird flu outbreak was first reported in the country on Dec. 15, after chickens at a farm in Umsong, North Chungchong Province, were confirmed to have highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as the H5N1 virus.
The KCDC said that no people had reported any symptoms similar to the bird flu but said it has decided to conduct the inspection as a special precaution.

Shanghai quarantines poultry meat from bird flu regions (, from Xinhua)

Shanghai Port has tightened examination and control of poultry products from regions stricken by the deadly bird flu virus, sealing up 140 kg of poultry meat from these regions in the Chinese Spring Festival period.
Inspectors found Vietnamese chicken meat on a Russian ship and a Panamanian ship from Philippines entering Shanghai Port Wednesday and kept the load for further sterilization and quarantine treatment.
As Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Japan were hit by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu virus, Shanghai immediately banned the entry of poultry products from these regions.
Passengers are prohibited from carrying poultry products from these regions through Shanghai Port and those touring bird flu- stricken regions and showing bird flu symptoms such as fever, coughing and muscle pain are required to report to hospital and quarantine departments as soon as possible.
So far, no avian influenza virus has been detected in the luggage of passengers entering the port.
Shanghai Port has also temporarily stopped handling poultry products from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and Hunan and Hubei provinces where confirmed and suspected bird flu cases have been found.

WHO puzzled by mystery 2003 HK bird flu death

BEIJING, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation has asked China for information about a baffling case of bird flu that killed a Hong Kong man after a visit to China a year ago.
The man died and his son fell sick from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, now spreading across Asia, in early 2003 in Hong Kong after returning from a visit to China's southern province of Guangdong and the neighbouring province of Fujian.
"It is a mystery in the sense that we don't know where this father and son picked up their infection from," WHO spokesman Roy Wadia said on Friday.
Bird flu surfaced in South Korea last December and has broken out in nine other Asian countries, including China. It has killed at least eight people and forced the culling of millions of chickens, ducks and other fowl.
One theory was that the father and son were infected at a Hong Kong park where they came into contact with migratory birds which flock there in the winter, Wadia said.
Hong Kong planned to cordon off one such park, the Mai Po wetlands, on Friday.

WHO fears bird flu began in April (Radio Voice of Vietnam)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the current outbreak of bird flu may have first surfaced last April, much earlier than previously thought.
WHO official Maria Cheng did not say where tainted samples currently being tested came from, but denied that they were from China.
The news may worry health experts, because it suggests the virus has already had time to spread widely. Ten people have died from bird flu, but it has yet to jump from human to human. The outbreak was first publicly reported in December, in the Republic of Korea.
Ms Cheng said the WHO received samples two weeks ago dating back to April last year, and initial tests showed they were carrying the H5N1 virus which is now sweeping Asia. She said that the WHO was not certain that the samples were carrying exactly the same strain as the current outbreak, but "it looks similar". The initial results are still significant because H5N1 has been in circulation for some time. The longer it has been active, the more chances there are of humans coming into contact with infected birds, , Cheng said.

Thai animal activist says chicken cull inhumane (

BANGKOK: Thailand's cull of 10.7 million chickens which were mostly packed into fertiliser sacks and buried alive in deep pits was inhumane and avoidable, a leading animal rights activists has been reported as saying.
"Burying them alive is not the right way to do it," Thai Animal Guardians Association chairman Roger Lohanan told The Nation newspaper.
If the government had revealed the bird flu outbreak earlier, preparations could have been made for the cull to be carried out in a less cruel way, he said.
After the outbreak was confirmed in Thailand last Friday, government workers scrambled to complete the slaughter of birds in infected regions and dispose of them in deep pits sprinkled with lime.
Helped by hundreds of soldiers, they descended on major farms and in front of tearful owners walked along the rows of cages, pulling the birds out and stuffing them, struggling, into the sacks.
On smaller farms, where time allowed, chickens had their necks wrung or were bashed to death with a stick before being buried.
Workers engaged in the operation said they were traumatised by having to kill so many chickens, particularly as they often did so over the emotional protests of farmers.
"I pray for the chickens every night. But when I wake up the next morning, I have to do the same job again. It's no different from being an executioner," one of them told the Nation this week.
There has also been criticism that the hasty cull was not done according to guidelines set by global health agencies, and that while culling crews wore full protective gear, farmers did not even have face masks to protect them from the deadly H5N1 virus.
Many of the farms are built over waterways and chickens routinely escaped, falling into the water where they drowned and were collected by workers later.
Lohanan said that ideally the chickens should have been gassed to death inside a carbon monoxide chamber but no such facilities exist in Thailand, although they could have been borrowed from other countries.

Bird flu threatens feather supply for Trinidad's Carnival costumes (Canadian Press)

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) - Flocks of gyrating Carnival dancers may be plucked of the pheasant and peacock feathers that make up most of their costumes because of concern over the Asian bird flu, Carnival groups said Thursday.
Costume-makers in the Caribbean country said it is becoming difficult to import the feathers because health officials are tightening regulations.
The restrictions could not have come at a worse time. With the Feb. 23-24 Carnival less than a month away, costume-makers are scrambling to finish thousands of outfits for locals and tourists who have already paid the equivalent of about $400 Cdn to wear them.
"It's a big part of it," said Wrenwrick Brown, leader of the Carnival group Rampage.
"It would be virtually impossible in some cases to complete the costumes," which consist of plumed headdresses that span 1.2 metres in diameter and bikinis decorated in sequins and beads.
Carnival band leaders often travel to the United States to buy peacock feathers from costume stores and bring them back in their luggage to the Caribbean island.
This year, due to the Asian bird flu and Newcastle disease found among some U.S. poultry populations, Trinidad authorities have warned they will strictly enforce local requirements for importing feathers, which include having an import licence and providing a health certificate from the country of origin.

Chicken off the menu for Thai Airways (USA Today)

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thai Airways announced Friday it has stopped serving chicken on all its flights as the bird flu epidemic sweeping through Asia hit confidence in poultry.
"The airline has cancelled all chicken menus on all flights, both domestic and international, and is offering a selection of alternative menus," the flag carrier said in a statement.
On Monday, Thai Airways said it had stopped serving chicken on domestic flights but was continuing to offer it on international routes. The presence of the deadly H5N1 virus was detected in chickens in the kingdom last Friday.
The carrier also said it had prohibited the transport of live birds and poultry in passenger cabins on domestic flights "to reassure passengers".
For its cargo flights it has also barred live birds from areas affected by the virus, which has now spread across of 32 of Thailand's 76 provinces, and requires strict documentation to prove a bird's origin.
The import of live birds from affected countries is also no longer permitted on its flights.

Virulent Bird Flu Spreads in China Vissuta Pothong (Reuters)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - China, home to a vast poultry industry, said on Friday the deadly bird flu virus which killed at least eight Asians had struck in three provinces, possibly two more and perhaps the sprawling financial capital of Shanghai.
It said tests confirmed the H5N1 virus had got into chickens in Hubei and Hunan provinces as well as the southern region of Guanxi. Outbreaks were also suspected in Anhui and Guangdong, the southern province where SARS was born.
There was another suspected outbreak in a suburb of Shanghai and a mass slaughter of domestic fowl was under way around all three new outbreaks, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Outbreaks in China -- widely condemned for covering up SARS for several months -- were the nightmare health officials had prayed they would not have to face.
Especially in Guangdong, people live cheek by jowl with their chickens and other farm animals, raising the possibility of the virus combining with human flu to produce a strain which could sweep through a world where people have no immunity to it.
So far, all eight people -- seven of them children -- known to have died from bird flu have caught it directly from infected chickens, victims of a virus probably spread by migrating birds.
But the generation of a new flu virus which can pass from person to person is the overwhelming fear and while the possibility is small, every outbreak shortens the odds of a pandemic a little.
There was, however, hopes of better news from Thailand, so far the worst hit of 10 Asian countries struck by bird flu, which hopes it may be turning the corner in the war against a disease which has seen governments accused of cover-ups and incompetence.
"I'm confident the cull is nearly finished," Agriculture Minister Somsak Thepsuthin told reporters at Bangkok's Chatuchak market, the world's biggest, where infected fighting cockerels were found this week.
"On Sunday, we should have some good news. We'll rub out areas which have been red areas," he added, referring to zones around outbreaks.
...But where and when the H5N1 avian flu virus first appeared is still a mystery, at least to the public.
Geneva-based WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said samples taken "several months ago" in a country he would not name proved to be the H5N1 virus.
"The country where it occurred didn't have the capacity to determine whether it was H5N1," he said. "The samples were stored and sent to a WHO collaborating center recently and found to show H5N1."
The WHO said on its Web site at test results from countries which have the disease indicated the virus "has been circulating in parts of Asia for longer than presumed."

Coming home to roost By Mark Baker in Bangkok, Mathew Moore in Jakarta, and Hamish McDonald in Beijing

THAKSIN Shinawatra, the tycoon turned politician who rules Thailand with a thumping parliamentary majority and the arrogant style of a CEO who brooks no dissent from his managers, knew weeks ago that the epidemic killing millions of chickens was almost certainly bird flu.

But right up until his administration publicly acknowledged the truth a week ago, Thaksin continued to endorse the fiction that a less dangerous strain of cholera or even bronchitis was responsible.

Last Tuesday, as Kaptan Bunmanut and another six-year-boy who has since died lay critically ill in hospital, Thaksin hosted a feast of chicken dishes at his weekly cabinet meeting to prove all was well with an industry that ranks Thailand as the world's fourth-largest chicken exporter and employs more than 600,000 Thais.

In the end, the truth came out only because the prominent Thai senator and physician Nirand Phitakwatchara blew the whistle on what the government knew and was not admitting - that testing had proven bird flu was rampant.

While Thai authorities have now moved swiftly to quarantine affected areas and this week hosted a summit of regional and international officials to try to co-ordinate a joint response, the damage has already been done. With half of the country's provinces declared infected with the virus, predictions of a rising death toll and the slaughter of more than 10 million chickens so far, it is likely to be months if not years before the Thai poultry industry recovers.

The damage to the Thaksin Government's reputation, at home and overseas, has been severe. The European Union, Thailand's second biggest poultry export market, has warned that resumption of poultry imports won't happen without independent verification of health standards.

IF THAILAND stands accused of dishonesty, then Indonesia is guilty of plain stupidity. After finally confessing that they, too, had a widespread outbreak of bird flu, the Indonesians declared that the mass culling under way in neighbouring countries was unnecessary in theirs. Several days later, in a breathtaking backflip, Jakarta bowed to international pressure and began slaughtering infected poultry.

Bird flu had first manifested itself in Indonesia as long ago as August, when thousands of chickens began dying in Central Java. Indonesia's Department of Agriculture quietly set up a Jakarta-based team to investigate. It included Dr Chaerul Anwar Nidom, a veterinary expert. He can't remember the exact date he identified the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu but he handed the Government a written report on December 15.

The Minister of Agriculture, Bungaran Saragih, said nothing publicly but met major poultry farmers who urged him to keep the information secret to allow them to import vaccine from China to try to control the outbreak. The Government agreed.

The Jakarta group was not the only one to tell the Government that bird flu was in Indonesia. In Bogor, just outside the capital, vets at the Institute of Agriculture Institute spent months last year conducting tests on chickens dying in their area.

According to the institute's deputy head, I Wayan Teguh Wibawan, his staff knew by September that it was bird flu that was killing chickens, though they weren't certain which strain.

He said he informed an officer from the Department of Agriculture of this at a seminar in Surabaya in October. When nothing happened he wrote to the agriculture ministry informing it of the definite existence of the flu, but again nothing happened.

While publicly denying the flu was in Indonesia, the Government dispatched to China a team to search for a vaccine. It met poultry producers again on January 15. And again the producers got their way and no announcement was made about the disease being in Indonesia.

That admission came only last Sunday after Dr Nidom told Indonesia's leading newspaper, Kompas, the real reason as many as 10 million chickens had been dying across the county. By then, any hope of containing the disease had long since evaporated.

The Government has denied it tried to hide the diseases, claiming its only reason for not making public its concerns was that it was not 100 per cent certain of the disease's identity.

ABOUT noon last Tuesday, a Mr Huang, an official in charge of epidemic prevention in the Longan county of China's south-western Guangxi province, was heatedly denying reports that avian influenza had broken out in a village called Dingdang. "If there were any unusual bird deaths, I would be one of those who would know at first hand," he insisted.

That evening the official Xinhua news agency carried an announcement by the health ministry in Beijing that bird flu had indeed been confirmed in Dingdang, that a cull of chickens and ducks had begun four days earlier within a three-kilometre radius of the affected farm, and a local quarantine imposed.

Huang was not embarrassed, explaining the next morning that "before the central government announces the news, no one is allowed to say anything".

Last April, after severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic had torn through China for 22 weeks while officials desperately tried to hide it from the world, the Communist Party's politburo standing committee, China's power centre, sacked the health minister and warned against the covering up of SARS cases and demanded the accurate, timely and honest reporting of the SARS situation.

That led to hopes of a new era of badly needed transparency in China. The first weeks of this year have dimmed what remained of those hopes.

Early in January, the expected return of the SARS virus was confirmed by three cases in southern Guangdong province, and well-practised quarantine systems were reactivated which seems to have halted any further spread.

But authorities turned on the Guangdong newspaper that had broken the news about the return of SARS. Police and party propaganda officials interrogated seven staff at the Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily) to ask why the story had been published without being sanctioned by the central health ministry. The reporter involved, Zeng Wenqiong, was stood down and the financial affairs of editors closely studied.

The SARS epidemic has, in fact, led to a tightening of controls over information, at the same time the health ministry and other government agencies have been trumpeting a new era of "accountability" to the public. What this means in practice is that ministries have increased their ranks of official spokespersons and the frequency of news conferences.

But it is not at all clear yet that lower-ranking officials are more ready to pass bad news up the chain of command to Beijing, or that the top leadership is ready to reveal it unless its hand is forced by unauthorised reporting, rumour or whistle-blowing (as with the brave retired army doctor Jiang Yanyong in last year's SARS epidemic).

This Tuesday's announcement of bird flu in Dingdang came after the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao had reported the Dingdang outbreak that morning. Government media said China had been keeping the World Health Organisation and other international agencies closely informed. But WHO's spokesman in Beijing, Roy Wadia, says: "We learnt about it exactly the same time as everybody else."

The Dingdang outbreak was confirmed about a week after the ducks started dying, which is certainly an improvement on the 22 weeks of cover-up with SARS last year.

But the real story, according to an alarming report in New Scientist, may be that Asia's bird flu crisis originated in a botched immunisation campaign in China last year that allowed birds to carry a mutated flu strain without showing symptoms.

A Chinese agriculture official, Qi Jingfa, dismissed the allegation as a "groundless guess". This suggests that WHO, which is taking that possibility very seriously, might find it hard to prise out the information it wants.

THE outcry over the handling of the epidemic by China, Thailand and Indonesia has diverted attention from Vietnam, the first country to officially acknowledge the outbreak and still the worst affected, with at least six deaths. Vietnam might yet prove to have been a crucial catalyst for the spread of the disease around the neighbourhood.

As early as last July large numbers of chickens were reported to be dying in northern Vinh Phuc province with symptoms of bird flu. A regional veterinary official told Time magazine: "The first signs of the epidemic were found in Tam Duong district [of Vinh Phuc] in July 2003. At the time Vietnam was preparing actively for the 22nd South-East Asian Games and we thought we would control the disease, so we did not announce it for political and economic reasons."

It was not until two weeks ago that Vietnamese authorities acknowledged an outbreak that has now spread throughout the country killing more than a million chickens and forcing another one million to be slaughtered. This week it was confirmed that the local death toll included two sisters, aged 23 and 30, from the northern Thai Bin province who succumbed to the virus last week. A brother also suspected of being infected died last week as well but he was cremated before his body could be tested.

The extent of the epidemic has heightened fears that the flu could mutate and cross-pollinate with human influenza, triggering a pandemic with rapid human-to-human transmission and for which an effective vaccine is still months away. The three biggest global influenza pandemics of the last century are all believed to have originated in outbreaks of bird flu in Asia.

While some WHO officials, busily canvassing funds to fight the outbreak, have talked alarmingly of the potential for millions of deaths from a deadly new strain of human flu, virologists say such a crossover remains unlikely - provided regional governments and international agencies move quickly to bring the latest epidemic under control. Australia has moved quickly, both to keep bird flu out and to help those countries already suffering from it.

The Customs Minister, Chris Ellison, says Australia has "state-of-the-art measures" compared with other countries, and that it is doing everything possible to screen arriving passengers.

"We saw the great work that our quarantine people, immigration and customs people carried out during the SARS crisis; we've seen it with foot and mouth; we've seen it with a whole range of other areas. Australia has a great record for keeping out disease."

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, said Australia was unlikely to be struck by the bird flu: "It could come to Australia, but I think that's frankly a little unlikely. I haven't been advised that it's really a threat."

Meanwhile, the CSIRO is sending test kits to countries that have reported the flu to try to define the extent of the outbreak.

Australia is also likely to be called on to make a substantial financial contribution to affected countries as they try to rebuild the livelihoods of poultry farmers. Ahead of that is an immediate threat to food security for hundreds of millions of people.

With Asia's poultry trade at a virtual standstill, thousands of producers ruined and consumers running scared, chicken and duck - staple foods in most Asian countries - are set to vanish indefinitely from regional menus. Even Colonel Sanders has switched from licking his fingers to licking his wounds in Asia.

China birdflu tracking system has holes -WHO

BEIJING, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation fears that weak surveillance systems may prevent China from effectively tracking the spread of the deadly bird flu virus in poultry across the world's most populous nation.

WHO representative in China Henk Bekedam said on Friday the country was capable of tracking the spread of the lethal H5N1 strain in humans following the SARS outbreak last year, but that surveillance of animals was a concern. "On the animal surveillance, we know far less. We are not routinely working with the Ministry of Agriculture, but we are aware that there are some weaknesses in their surveillance system," he said without elaborating.

China's strong political commitment to trying to prevent the spread of birdflu, which has caused deaths in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, was encouraging but was unlikely to suffice, he said.

"If your system is not strong enough to identify that chickens and ducks are dying then you still have a problem," he said.

Institute admits hiding truth Kultida Samabuddhi Bangkok Post

The Livestock Department's National Institute of Animal Health says it detected signs of bird flu in November but decided to keep quiet for fear of hurting poultry exports and causing public panic.

``The mass chicken deaths in Nakhon Sawan and the bird-flu-like symptoms made us believe avian flu was already here at that time,'' NIAH director Nimit Traiwanatham told the senate panels on public health, social development and foreign affairs.

Although the institute did not tell the public about the outbreak, Dr Nimit said, agencies had put in place epidemic control measures designed to contain its spread.

Senators visited the NIAH, the government's central animal disease laboratory, to look into its alleged complicity in the cover-up.

``Why did you tell the public about the emergence of avian flu so late, or about three months after the outbreak was suspected? Did any politicians or influential figures tell the veterinarians to hide the information to protect their own interest?'' senator Nirand Pitakwatchara asked officials. They declined to answer. It is not clear if they were acting on someone's orders.

No plan to kill pigeons at Sanam Luang Visitors to bird areas urged to wear masks Ploenpote Atthakor Bangkok Post

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is not planning to slaughter pigeons at Sanam Luang and Wat Suthat Temple as reported in some local newspapers.
``We are just monitoring the birds. There have been no unusual deaths so far,'' said district official Apirat Tradusdee.
Deputy governor Praphan Kittisin had earlier told the press that the birds may be culled. He said alcohol would be mixed with bird feed to intoxicate them so they could be caught and destroyed.
However, the district office has prohibited vendors from selling bird feed in the area.
Dr Praphan warned food vendors and patrons in Silom and other areas where birds take refuge to be careful of bird droppings.
He advised vendors to clean up the mess with hot water to prevent the disease from spreading.
A veterinarian at the BMA's bird flu hotline centre said members of the public should wear masks when going to Sanam Luang and other bird shelters.
``A mask or a handkerchief should help. The disease might come with dust. If possible, avoid these areas altogether,'' he said.
Rungroj Chookmongkol, of the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand, urged the government to quarantine the birds, rather than killing them.
``In general, the H5N1 strain of the avian flu is a problem for chickens, not other birds. It doesn't spread to other birds so easily,'' he said.
However, a lack of clear information on the problem from the government had made people scared of venturing too close to birds. He doubted the bird flu crisis was a valid enough excuse for the BMA to wipe them out from the place.
``A few years ago, city officials drugged these birds in a bid to remove them from the area.
``The move triggered a public outcry and the agency had to stop,'' he said.
Mr Rungroj said the government should find a place to quarantine the pigeons and monitor them until the crisis is over.
``If it happens that they are free from the disease, they should be allowed to live,'' he said.

Bird flu panic hits China amid fears of global pandemic Independent UK Jasper Becker in Beijing

The nightmare of deadly bird flu, which Chinese health officials prayed they would not have to face, has struck five provinces and possibly the financial capital, Shanghai.

And at the centre of the meltdown in Asia's vast poultry industry is a 61-year-old multi-billionaire called Dhanin Chearavanont who turned a small family business, Charoen Pokphand Group, into the world's largest chicken producer and animal-feed miller. At risk in the bird flu crisis is not just the company's £5bn annual sales of animal feed, chickens, eggs, ducks as well as shrimp and fish but a revolution in the eating habits of billions of people.

...Chia Ek Chow, who adopted a Thai name, Dhanin Chearavanont, is the man who brought the American-style battery chicken farming pioneered by Tyson foods to Thailand, which helped make chicken so cheap it now rivals pork in popularity.

Mr Chearavanont has invested billions in China, where growing affluence has quintupled meat consumption in the past 20 years. Thousands of Kentucky Fried Chicken branches have opened to cater for a diet which could turn China into a massive food importer within a decade.

Thailand's agribusiness did so well, other countries including India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea, Burma, and even Russia have tried to follow suit and introduce intensive rearing techniques, and 10 of them have now reported outbreaks of avian flu.

When huge numbers of chickens, or pigs, are reared in densely packed sheds, sometimes 50,000 in two-storey sheds with poor ventilation, they are vulnerable to infectious diseases such as cholera, TB and avian influenza. Many of these diseases, including foot-and-mouth, are endemic in Thailand and China, every year. The real threat comes when the intensive breeding allows new varieties to spread quickly and to jump to humans who live near the animals.

Asian Economies Brace For Bird Flu By Tony Santiago, EE Times

SINGAPORE - Electronics manufacturers in Asia are reportedly taking steps to prevent the spread of avian influenza at their facilities as fears rise that the bird flu could prove more damaging to some Asian economies than last year's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

In Malaysia, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s consumer product operations and Dell Computer Corp.'s manufacturing and customer support facility have adopted more stringent health and safety standards in reaction to the bird flu, according to R Ramakrishnam, managing director of Pearl Precision, a plastics molding and tooling company based in Kuala Lumpur. “I have heard that there are temperature checks of employees on a daily basis, similar to [last winter's] anti-SARS measures,” he said. “Also, I have heard that chicken is no longer being offered in [company] canteens. No one wants to fall victim to a virus that might be as deadly as SARS.”

31 January

Experts in Vietnam check if pigs catching bird flu By Tan Ee Lyn (Reuters)

HONG KONG, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Experts in Vietnam are checking rumours that pigs have caught bird flu, which could result in a new, powerful strain of the disease that can be caught and passed on by people, a flu specialist said on Saturday.
Pigs are seen as as an ideal vessel for bird and human viruses to mix and produce new strains that humans can catch.
"There are rumours of pigs being infected in Vietnam. WHO teams are there to see if pigs are infected," Jacqueline Katz, a flu expert at the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a conference in Hong Kong.

US poultry industry not worried about Asian bird flu (AP)

ATLANTA (AP) - A bird flu that has killed chickens and even people in Asia has caused little worry in the U.S. poultry industry, which is relying on bans, tests and security safeguards to keep the avian virus away.
"We're trying to keep a firewall between our birds and the outside world,'' said John Smith, health director for Fieldale Farms in Baldwin, Georgia.
Since the bird flu surfaced in October in Vietnam, domestic sales of chicken, turkey and other poultry have not dropped off.
The Asian flu is actually helping the American market because Japanese bans on chickens from affected Asian countries have prompted a rise in sales - and prices - of U.S. poultry.
More is also being sold to Hong Kong and Singapore.
..."Right now the risk here appears to be very low, but we are taking a number of steps because this could be a serious problem if the epidemic in Asia is not contained,'' said Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC's director.
Those steps include bans on poultry from affected areas in Asia, constant blood testing of flocks and limits on people who can have contact with birds in poultry houses.
..."The American consumer does not relate what's produced here with what's going on out there,'' said Aziz Sacranie, technical director of poultry for Alltech, Ltd., a poultry supplement supplier.
"In the United States, prices will hold and be healthy.''
The protection against bird flu begins far beyond U.S. borders. Americans who travel to affected countries are asked not to have contact with poultry farms there and are asked to stay away from live animal markets and to avoid contact with bird feaces [sic!].
In the United States, the government monitors the health of chickens to provide early warning against outbreaks that affect birds.
Any birds found infected are quarantined and, if necessary, slaughtered.
At Fieldale Farms, poultry houses are off-limits to visitors and those who absolutely must go inside the houses can only do so after avoiding contact with any birds in three days.
Those who come to the farms must shower and change their clothing before entering.
Employees must sign an agreement they will have no contact with any kinds of birds outside the workplace.
Industry officials are working to make sure all farms have similar measures in place.
"We have to improve the level of biosecurity at the farm level - that's where we've got to be more stringent,'' said Dr. Charles Beard, vice president of research and technology at the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.
"The events of the world now really add emphasis to get that done.''

Lament from Erehwon (Taipei Times)

TAIPEI — In Taiwan, outbreaks have been reported in some poultry farms in the center and south of the country. This has resulted in the slaughter of around 200,000 chickens. According to test results, however, the outbreaks were not caused by the virulent H5N1 strain of avian flu. But as happened with last year's SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] epidemic, no WHO officials have come here yet to offer assistance in epidemic prevention. Such a repeat is deplorable.

Can other countries really afford for Taiwan to become a loophole in efforts to stop the spread of bird flu?

The World Health Organization, which is responsible for ensuring humanity's health, continues to kowtow to Chinese political pressure and reject Taiwan's participation. China has repeatedly lied to the world, saying that Beijing can take care of the Taiwanese people's health needs. In reality, however, China has spread diseases to Taiwan — from the foot-and-mouth epidemic a few years ago to SARS. Those outbreaks showed the world the deficiencies of the Chinese health care system and its bureaucracy.

Vietnam bans chicken transport nationwide, two thirds of provinces hit Channel News Asia

HANOI: Prime minister Phan Van Khai has imposed a ban on all transport of chicken across Vietnam to fight bird flu, which has hit two thirds of the country's 64 provinces.
According to Bui Quang Anh, director of the veterinary department in the ministry of agriculture and rural development, Khai met ministers and officials from contaminated provinces Friday to organize the isolation of infected areas.
"Seven million poultry have been culled since the beginning of the epidemic and another seven provinces were infected," Anh said.
"Up to now, 41 provinces are contaminated" he said.
State media said the prime minister had asked several ministries including defence and police to set up control stations and prevent the transport of poultry from one locality to another.

AVA making sure frozen chicken safe to eat By Bridgette See, Channel NewsAsia

...Each year, Singaporeans eat 100,000 tonnes of frozen chicken.
A cold room that is kept at minus 18 degress Celsius and it's absolutely freezing is where the frozen chickens are immediately stored when they arrive at the ports.
They're brought to the cold room very quickly in refrigerated trucks.
Officers from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) then inspect the chickens which are mainly from Brazil and America, to make sure they're stored at the right temperature and they're from an accredited source.
The inspector also defrosts some of the birds to see if they're discoloured which might indicate disease.
He also sniffs around for telltale odours and even checks if the chicken is slimey, and even the carton isn't spared.
AVA's Senior Food Safety Officer, Khoo Soon Huat, said: "We want to make sure that the journey from this exporting country to Singapore, there's no temperature breakdown and thaw, that means chicken were not defrosted during the journey.
"So we will check the exterior carton for any deformation, to make sure the carton is intact, then we check the interior of the carton for blood drip stains to see whether chicken meat has defrosted during the journey."
Testing of frozen chickens for the avian flu began as far back as December, when the virus first started appearing in Asia.
So far not a single bird has been bad but there won't be any let up in such bird flu precautions in line with Singapore's overall approach in handling the bird flu crisis plaguing Asia.
At a National Tripartite Conference on Wage Restructuring, Deputy Prime Minister was asked on how Singapore has reacted to the bird flu outbreak in parts of Asia.
He said: "Our preference is to over-react rather than under-react. That's how we did with SARS and that's how we should do with the bird flu."

Malaysia's poultry industry starts to feel heat from bird flu By Channel NewsAsia Malaysia Correspondent Melissa Goh

KUALA LANGAT, Malaysia: In Malaysia, the US$1.5 billion poultry industry is starting to feel the heat from the bird flu outbreak in parts of Asia.
Although the country has stayed virus-free, sales of some chicken have gone down by 15 to 20 percent, amid falling consumer confidence.
Despite assurance that locally produced chickens are free of the bird flu virus, sales of poultry have fallen.
And this has spelled bad news for the country's 70,000 chicken traders.
One of them, Ruslan Hashim, said: "Malaysians are buying less these days because they are afraid of the disease, just like in Indonesia."

WHO: China Lacks Adequate Reporting, Detection of Bird Flu Celia Hatton Beijing (Voice of America)

The World Health Organization says China lacks an adequate reporting and detection system for eradicating the threat of avian flu, and says time is running short. Meanwhile, China and other Asian nations are taking ever more extensive measures to curb the spread of the virus.

The Chinese government announced Friday that it was setting up a national command center to monitor the spread of bird flu. However, Dr. Julie Hall, a World Health Organization specialist in Beijing, says the country's reporting system is still inadequate and may not be able to catch cases of the disease on small farms in time to eradicate it fully.

Dr. Hall said that China, like other Asian countries, contains many small household farms raising just a few chickens or ducks. She says a system must be set up that reassures these farmers they won't be hurt financially if they report the presence of sick birds.

"For some of these people, destroying the few chickens that they have will put them into poverty and governments around the world have to recognize this and be able to rapidly compensate those people so that there is an incentive for them to actually report, because this is a potentially global public health problem," she explained.

...the prime minister of Thailand has urged citizens to eat more chicken, saying it is safe as long as it is well cooked. He said he would personally pay the equivalent of 75,000 U.S. dollars to anyone who became ill from eating chicken.

Vegetarianism, Ignorance And Market Opportunity Bird flu is doing different things to different people ASHOK B SHARMA & MAHUA VENKATESH (Financial Express)

NEW DELHI, JAN 31: Haryana-based Tagma Agrotech Ltd claims birds can be made resistant to virus and diseases. If only they go veg bigtime. For this company bird flu (analogous to influenza in humans) is a business opportunity. It’s just waiting to hawk a special veggie package for layer birds. Inside it are 17 ingredients including neem, turmeric and tulsi. Promises to be bitter: one tonne of feed has 8 kilo of neem!

VR Mehta, scientific advisor of Tagma, won’t stop at that. He has applied for a patent rights through IPR consultancy firm LexOrbic. “Once we get our patent rights we will be in a position to publicly disclose the details of the formulations,” he promises. Tagma chairperson Meenakshi Mehta claims birds raised on that diet “haven’t succumbed and their eggs are low in cholesterol and have requisite amount of vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc and sodium, and odourless too!” Ms Mehta plans to surround her farm with neem and tulsi.

Ghayas-ud-din, a poultry trader in Jama Masjid, flags a basic concern. It’s price. “If the eggs are priced at Rs 22 per six, how will the common man afford it?” he asks. Not surprising therefore that his fellow dealer Sauqat Ali says with authority, “There is no effect on trade. There is no incidence of bird flu in India.”

Not all dealers share Sauqat’s confidence though. “Some consumers are aware of the spreading bird flu and consumption has dropped dramatically,” says Narinder Singh, owner of The Meat Shop, located in a central Delhi colony.

Bird flu: Chronology of key events (Times of India)

November 2003: Thailand reports cases of what it calls chicken cholera.
15 December: South Korea confirms an outbreak of avian flu after the virus was discovered at a farm 80 km south of Seoul . Since then, more than two million chickens and ducks have been culled in a bid to stamp out the disease.
9 January 2004 : The UN sends help to Vietnam after an avian flu outbreak is confirmed.
13 January: Japan confirms an outbreak of avian flu amongst its poultry flocks.
15 January: Taiwan announces it also has cases of avian flu amongst poultry, though this is later confirmed to be a less virulent strain, H5N2.
21 January: Laos reports suspected chicken cholera.
23 January: Thailand confirms the first human cases of avian flu.
24 January: - A 13-year-old boy is confirmed as the Vietnam 's sixth victim of avian flu.
25 January: - Indonesia announces it has seen cases of avian flu in poultry. Officials said they wanted to carry out further investigations before ordering a cull of poultry.
26 January: A six-year-old boy is confirmed as the first Thai avian flu fatality. Five other people suspected of having the disease have also died.
Pakistan announces it has seen cases of the H-7 and H-9 strains of avian flu in poultry. These strains are said to be less dangerous than H5N1.
27 January: - A second six-year-old boy dies from the disease in Thailand .
Laos confirms an outbreak of the disease among its chickens, but says more tests are needed to know which strain in involved.
China confirms that ducks in the south western province of Guangxi , bordering Vietnam , have been infected with the H5N1 strain. Outbreaks are also suspected in Hubei and Hunan provinces.
1 February

WHO: Two sisters who died of bird flu in Vietnam may be first cases of human-to-human transmission TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer

Two Vietnamese sisters who died of bird flu may have caught the disease from their brother, the World Health Organization said Sunday. If confirmed, it would be the first known case of human-to-human transmission of the virus during the current outbreak sweeping Asia.
The source of the two sisters' infection has not yet been conclusively identified, said Bob Dietz, a WHO spokesman in Hanoi.
"However, WHO considers that limited human-to-human transmission from the brother to his sisters is one possible explanation," he said.
Laboratory tests in Hong Kong verified that the sisters, ages 30 and 23, had been infected by the H5N1 bird flu virus, he said.

Thai senator emerges as whistle-blower in bird flu cover-up: report Channel News Asia

BANGKOK : A whistle-blowing Thai senator has lashed out at government officials who she says were "at least two months late" in tackling the bird flu crisis now winging across Asia, a report said on Sunday.
Malinee Sukhawejworakit, a senator from Nakhon Sawan which was among the first of 36 provinces to report bird flu in the kingdom, said she went to her home province in November and discovered a calamity in the making - and concerted efforts to keep it under wraps.
"I first suspected bird flu in November when so many chicken deaths were reported in my constituency," Malinee told the Nation newspaper in an interview.
"I'd say that the government was at least two months late in managing this crisis properly," said Malinee, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Health.
Government officials who had "started out with the mistaken assumption that it wasn't the deadly (bird flu) disease" proceeded to pull the wool over the eyes of panicked farmers who were wrongly told the outbreak was not bird flu, she said in the English-language daily.
A lack of capability in testing for the deadly H5N1 virus strain in government laboratories added to the bungling, the paper cited her as saying.
"When you set out to handle a looming crisis in this manner, it's inevitable that the crisis will later explode in front of you like it did a couple of weeks ago," she said.
...Malinee, the Nation said, sounded the alarm January 19 by publicly charging the government with hiding findings about bird flu.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's credibility has taken a severe beating over the fiasco, with allegations that his government covered up the outbreak of the lethal disease for weeks.
The government conceded last Wednesday, as Thailand hosted international talks aimed at forging a united response to the crisis engulfing 10 Asian nations, that it had "screwed up" in its handling of the outbreak, but denied a deliberate cover-up.
Also in the Nation, the secretary general of the Thai Public Health Foundation, Rosana Tositrakul, called for the immediate resignation of Agriculture Minister Somsak Thepsuthin and his deputy Newin Chidchob.
A government spokesman has pledged that heads would roll as a result of the crisis, but refused to say who would be sacked.

China Shuts Poultry Factories in Bird Flu Areas By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has shut down poultry processing factories in bird flu-hit regions as workers stepped up culling and vaccinating to stymie the rapidly spreading disease.
... Authorities closed down poultry processing factories in the southern provinces of Guangxi and Hunan and nearby Hubei, where outbreaks of the avian influenza have been confirmed, the official Xinhua news agency said in a report seen on Sunday.
Xinhua has quoted Agriculture Ministry officials as saying the bird flu epidemic has been brought under control. It did not elaborate. But the World Health Organization is not so sure.
"It appears to be spreading rapidly especially in Guangdong," Beijing-based WHO spokesman Roy Wadia said of the bird flu.
"We are extremely concerned," he said by telephone. "It is entirely conceivable that there could be more cases." The State Administration for Industry and Commerce has issued a notice calling for poultry markets in Guangxi to be shut and trade to be banned, Xinhua said.
Checks would be stepped up and unsanitary markets, even in unaffected areas, would be closed, it added.

Bird Flu's Potential Danger Nightmarish

The illness began with a headache like the blow of a sledgehammer. The victims shook with chills and burned with fever, and they whispered of agonizing muscle aches. They fought for breath as their lungs filled with fluid; as their bodies were starved of oxygen, their skin turned the deep gray of roofing slates. Within days --- sometimes within hours --- they died.

The first cases showed up in Boston, but the infection raced across the country on every road and railroad. In two weeks, Florida. In a month, California. In a single week, 2,000 people died in Chicago, 3,000 in Philadelphia, and more than 5,000 in New York.

Buffalo ran out of coffins. Philadelphia ran out of gravediggers. In Atlanta, every public gathering was banned.

The year was 1918. The disease was influenza. A common virus had produced a brand-new strain, one never seen before. Within 11 months it killed 675,000 Americans, and as many as 50 million people around the world.

Today, world health authorities are anxiously watching Southeast Asia, where a new strain of flu virus has spread to at least nine countries, infecting an unknown number of people and killing at least 10.

When they imagine the possible forms the unfolding epidemic could take, 1918 is what they see.

"I feel totally powerless," said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu authority at the University of Michigan, "to do something about what I think is a potentially dangerous situation." Born among birds

Influenza is a constant winter companion for humans. Every year it sickens 10 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population with fever, aches and cough. Most recover, though in an average year flu kills up to 36,000 Americans, many of them elderly.

Roughly every 30 years, though, influenza gets dramatically worse and causes what is known as a pandemic: large outbreaks in widely separated parts of the world at roughly the same time. The last three pandemics occurred in 1968, when 700,000 died worldwide; 1957, when 100,000 died; and 1918.

In every case, science discovered afterward that the influenza virus had undergone a sudden and dramatic genetic shift. People whose immune systems had gotten used to the currently circulating flu viruses, and had evolved some defense against them, had no protection against the new strain. It struck with extraordinary force.

Sarawak bans chicken, chicken parts import

KUCHING Feb 1 - Sarawak has slammed a total ban on chicken and chicken parts import in the wake of the deadly bird flu scare in the region, State Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Adenan Satem said Sunday.
He said the State Veterinary Services Department had been ordered not to allow chicken and chicken parts import for the time being from bird flu-hit countries.
"This is a precautionary measure to prevent the killer virus from spreading to the state," he told reporters after presiding over the sacrificial offering of cattle in conjunction with Aidiladha celebrations in Kota Samarahan, near here.
Adenan said the Agriculture Department had also stationed more personnel from its veterinary section at the border posts with Indonesia to stop chicken, processed chicken, chicks and ducks from being smuggled in from East Kalimantan.
He said 15 enforcement officers have been deployed at border entry points in Tebedu, Serikin and Biawak and their numbers would be doubled to cover the known illegal entry points.
He said enforcement officers would conduct spot checks on chicken and chicken-based products at the Sunday market in Satok.
Adenan assured the people the ban would not affect the supply of chicken and chicken parts as Sarawak was self-sufficient in chicken.
On Saturday, a foreign vessel from one of the bird flu-hit countries was stopped and disinfected after it was found to be carrying live chicken.
State Veterinary Services Department Senior Assistant Director Dr Sia Chick Hong said although the chickens were for the crews' own consumption during the voyage, the authorities had to take precautionary measures.
"We have culled all the chicken on board the vessel and disinfected the vessel and all the crew members. We will continue to remain vigilant," he said.
He said the vessel was from one of the ASEAN countries which has been hit by the bird flu outbreak.

Avian Flu Spreading Faster Than Expected Across China By Philip P. Pan Washington Post Foreign Service

BEIJING, Feb. 1 -- The deadly avian influenza appears to be spreading faster than expected across China, as authorities reported five more suspected outbreaks on Sunday, including one in far western Xinjiang province, hundreds of miles from the duck farm in the southeast where the virus first appeared in the country a week ago.
The announcement brings to 14 the total number of places in China with confirmed or suspected outbreaks of the bird flu... The government said again Sunday that it has not received any reports of bird flu infections among humans in China. The WHO said the Health Ministry denied a report in Hong Kong media that a patient in the Shanghai area had been diagnosed with the disease.
...Health experts are especially worried about the spread of bird flu in China - the world's second-largest producer of poultry - because the vast majority of chickens and ducks here are raised on household farms, where hundreds of millions of peasants live in close proximity to their livestock.

UN Agency Calls For Mass Cullings Press Release: United Nations

With a highly contagious strain of bird flu erupting in Asia and fears that in a worst case scenario it could mutate into a deadly human-to-human infection, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for speedy mass killing of exposed birds and international aid to farmers hit by the measures.

“Mass cullings in affected areas are currently considered as the most effective way of stamping out the highly contagious virus that has so far hit 10 countries in Asia," the agency’s senior animal production and health officer, Hans Wagner, said of the measures which have so far resulted in 25 million birds being killed.

"We are, however, concerned that mass cullings are not taking place at a speed we consider absolutely necessary to contain the virus H5N1 [the current avian flu strain] in the region,” Mr. Wagner added.

Noting that lack of compensation discouraged small producers dependent on chickens and eggs for their daily income from applying necessary emergency measures, he called on the international community to urgently address the problem of financial assistance and advice, especially in poorer countries.

“The campaign against avian flu can only be successful if we convince poultry farmers in all affected countries to apply drastic emergency measures such as cullings,” Mr. Wagner said. "There is a real threat that the virus may linger on in poorer countries which are without adequate resources to apply control measures."

China's chicken exporters winged by bird flu Effect of outbreak seen spreading across agricultural industry Agence France-Presse / By Peter Harmsen

Although the nearest case of bird flu is hundreds of kilometers away, the Asian epidemic is a very real threat for the 3,000 workers at Huadu Broiler Corp. in Beijing.
The company's chicken exports, normally 700 tons a month, have dropped to zero after the deadly H5N1 virus strain was confirmed last week in Guangxi region near Vietnam. And more bad news may be on the way.
"If there's also a large decline in the home market, and we can't sell all the chicken meat we produce, we'll have to start laying off workers," said Chen Yuanfeng, a company spokesman.
China is the world's fifth-largest exporter of chicken and shipped 420,000 tons abroad last year, only slightly behind Thailand's 500,000 tons, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Both countries are among a small group of developing nations that have emerged as major players in the global poultry trade, wrestling market share from the United States, the world's biggest producer, consumer and exporter.
China's growing clout in the chicken business could be in for its worst challenge ever, judging from the flood of reports the China Meat Association has received over the past week from chicken producers across the nation.
"Losses will be at least in the billions of yuan (hundreds of millions of dollars)," said He Zhonghua, a spokesman for the association.
When China's chicken exports are hurting, so is its entire agribusiness, since local producers estimate chicken products make up 50 percent of total meat exports.
Japan is traditionally China's most important overseas market for chicken, and has typically accounted for 70 percent in past years.

H5N1 nearly reaches Taiwan Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Tsai Ting-I

Six ducks nearly smuggled into Taiwan from China in December were found to be infected with a virus that is very similar to the virulent H5N1 avian flu strain that has caused havoc throughout the region.
The case raised fears that Taiwan, which to date has only suffered from a milder strain of the flu, was still threatened by its more potent cousin.
The Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine yesterday confirmed that its latest tests proved the avian influenza carried by six ducks, which were abandoned by a smuggling ship off the waters of Kinmen's Hsiyuan in early December, was 96 percent identical to the H5N1 virus that has led to the deaths of eight people in Vietnam.
The milder H5N2 strain that has hit Taiwan is 79 percent identical to the flu discovered in Vietnam, according to the bureau.
While the six ducks were immediately culled to avert further danger, the nearly successful smuggling operation suggested Taiwan's efforts to keep the H5N1 virus away from its breeding farms were still being challenged, especially after the World Health Organization recently announced that China's window for containing the bird flu was narrowing.
2 February

Thai PM criticises WHO warning on human-to-human bird flu transmission (Agence France Presse)

BANGKOK - Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Monday criticised the World Health Organisation (WHO) for raising the prospect that bird flu may have made the leap to human-to-human transmission in Vietnam.
After the WHO said it was a “possible explanation” for the deaths of two sisters, Thaksin said researchers should only make their theories public if there was a good prospect of them being confirmed.
“Normally the ethics of researchers is such that if there is only a slight possibility of something happening, then they will discuss it among themselves, they will not say anything to the public to raise concern,” he told reporters.
“If the possibility is higher than five percent they should say something, but if it’s under five percent they should not say anything. The possibility of human-to-human transmission is 0.00001 percent.”

Dead chickens force government openness By Marwaan Macan-Markar (Asia Times)

BANGKOK - From being one of Asia's most sought-after meats, chickens have now been assigned a new role - that of a political symbol that underscores the need for an open, transparent society. The avian flu spreading quickly across the continent is, of course, the reason for this feathered symbol of significance.

Thailand's handling of the bird flu - 29 of its 76 provinces had reported cases of the avian flu by Friday, and a third death was confirmed on Monday - has exposed a glaring weakness in the style of government by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The bird-flu crisis has already prompted Thaksin to venture into a role unimaginable just over a week before. He admitted last week at the start of a crisis meeting involving 10 Asian countries affected by the bird flu that "errors" and "mistakes" were made in the way Bangkok had handled this escalating crisis.

The earliest cases of bird flu, which has now undercut Thailand's dollar-earning exports in chickens, were reported as early as October, but not until the flu had become much worse did the Thai government acknowledge its existence.

Besides his mea culpa, Thaksin's speech at Wednesday's international talks contained language that went against the image he has created of himself since his party won a thumping electoral victory in January 2001. "Transparency and disclosure of information are essential to bring back confidence and trust to the general public," he said.

This sea change is not lost on his critics, who see the Thai premier as an increasingly authoritarian leader who has instilled fear in the bureaucracy and other institutions of government and believes he has all the answers to the country's woes.

"His style of government, where debate and constructive criticism [are] stifled, has backfired on him this time. It is a big blow," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "This episode should teach the government that running Thailand is different from running a corporation."

Chickens locked away as flu claims 19 By Fleur Anderson and Danny Buttler The Mercury Australia

Australia's free-range chickens are being put under lock and key after fears migratory birds could spread the virus into local flocks.
Major poultry producers will stop manufacturing free-range chicken meat until the crisis has ended.
The Australian Chicken Meat Federation said intensive poultry farmers would keep all birds locked in sheds 24 hours a day. Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia has told its members that all fowl should be kept locked up until the crisis is over.
"FREPA is recommending to all those who use our certified trademark: either keep birds locked up or put in other measures to ensure birds don't come in contact with wild birds," vice-president Meg Parkinson said.
Ms Parkinson said moving poultry inside or building roofed enclosures would push up farming costs, with price rises likely to be passed on to consumers.

Soymeal demand declines as bird flu spreads (China Daily)

Analysts say that the economic impact of bird flu is unlikely to last long, despite the virus weighing down the prices of soymeal and some other soybean products on the commodity market.
In fact, a quick revival is expected after the virus is contained, analysts said.
Soymeal, a by-product of soybean and a major poultry feed, is facing declining demand as Asian countries are culling poultry in bird flu infected farms and trading in live poultry has been greatly reduced or entirely halted in many places.
Concern over bird flu also pulled down the Chicago Board of Trade soybeans and soy products in Asia on Monday.
The soy market as a whole will face great pressure in the short term, but it is still hard to calculate the losses, which depend on how quickly the disease is brought under control, said Li Lei, research director of China International Futures Co Ltd (CIFCO).
However, the impact is unlikely to last long, if the epidemic can get contained within one to two months, he said.

Suspected bird flu case in Germany Guardian Unlimited

Health officials were today investigating the possible spread of the bird flu to Europe after a suspected case was reported in Germany, while two more people died from the disease in Asia.
German emergency services said they had taken a woman they suspected was infected with bird flu to a tropical diseases clinic in Hamburg, according to Reuters news agency.
3 February

Troops sent to India-Myanmar border to keep out bird flu Agence France-Presse

Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed along India's border with Myanmar to prevent the spread of a bird flu outbreak that has killed 12 people across Asia, officials said on Tuesday.
India is still free of avian influenza or bird flu.
And while no cases of avian influenza have been reported in Myanmar, officials are worried some poultry could be smuggled through the country from neighbouring Thailand, which has been badly affected by the virus.
"Troops were deployed along the borders of the northeastern states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh neighbouring Myanmar to prevent smuggling of poultry into the region," a government spokesman said.
The four northeastern states share a 1,643-kilometre- long unfenced border with Myanmar.
India has already banned all poultry imports in an effort to protect its billion-plus population from bird flu.
But an intelligence official said it was "very difficult to completely seal the border" with Myanmar due to the rugged terrain. Smuggling from Myanmar of goods and livestock, including poultry, was rife, he said.
A government health official said authorities had not ruled out the chance of bird flu strains finding their way into the region "because some imported birds may have been bred in Thailand."

China confirms deadly bird flu in Guangdong

BEIJING (Reuters) - China confirmed on Tuesday that a suspected outbreak of bird flu among poultry in the southern province of Guangdong was the deadly H5N1 strain.
It also said two new provinces were suspected to have been hit by bird flu.
The suspected outbreaks in the northern provinces of Gansu and Shaanxi bring to 12 the number of provinces, regions and major cities in China that have confirmed or suspected cases of the disease in their fowl.
Gansu had previously been listed as a "possible" case but that had been upgraded to "suspected", state television said, citing the Agriculture Ministry.

As flu races through Asian birds, experts say threat to humans is rising Thomas Crampton IHT

..."The avian influenza is changing significantly," Stöhr said. "It is swapping genes with other forms of other H5 virus and other viruses, and has indicated a propensity to cause a public health hazard as well as agricultural problems." The danger in swapping genes with other strains of influenza is that the strain could become more virulent or contagious. The most worrying aspect of the avian influenza so far, however, has been its ability to spread among chickens across Asia.

"We have never seen an outbreak of avian influenza that has spread to so many countries in such a short period of time and affected such a large area," Stöhr said. "The scale brings things to a whole different level when you look for solutions." The influenza currently spreading among chickens in Asia, the H5N1 strain, first jumped to humans in Hong Kong in 1997. Brought under control in the past by slaughtering millions of birds in a matter of days, such solutions are increasingly difficult.

"Culling measures now must be looked at in a different way since chickens are a very important source of protein in the region," Stöhr said. "The balance must be struck between ensuring human health against the virus while making sure we do not undermine these countries in other ways." Although the avian disease outbreak does not technically fall under the authority of the World Health Organization, the agency has been watching with great concern as migratory birds appear to carry the disease across borders. If that is indeed the case, then avian flu could potentially spread to chickens in Europe.

"There are migratory bird routes connecting Siberia with Europe, but I don't dare to speculate," Stöhr said. "It is certainly true that migratory birds play a role, but we have not completely divined which one."

Ferret shortage delaying bird flu vaccine: WHO

TORONTO — Efforts to create a prototype vaccine to protect humans in the event the H5N1 avian influenza strain triggers a pandemic have run into a slight glitch: a ferret shortage.
The head of the World Health Organization's global influenza program says efforts to create what's called the viral seed are moving along at the expected pace, but there's been a delay in getting the ferrets needed to test whether the genetically altered virus being produced is safe to administer to people.
"The only reason why the ... safety testing in ferrets is not started is that we don't have any ferrets," Klaus Stohr said Tuesday in an interview from Geneva.
"We would like to be faster but when there are no ferrets there is not much you can do about it."
Ferrets are routinely used in flu vaccine safety testing because they are a good model for human influenza infection.
He said it's hoped the U.S. labs working on the vaccine project will receive a shipment shortly. "That's the bottleneck now."
It's not so much that there's a worldwide ferret shortage, Stohr said, but rather an unexpected need for the animals.
"There is not a huge market for these ferrets. And normally they'd be ordered in advance for the normal vaccine. ... But here we need them quickly, unforeseeable demand. And that's why things are slightly delayed."
Apart from the ferret issue, the work is proceeding apace

South Korea to import 50,000 T Brazilian poultry By Natuza Nery

BRASILIA, Brazil, Feb 3 (Reuters) - South Korean importers decided to buy 50,000 tonnes of chicken from Brazil, as the bird flu epidemic thins Asian poultry supplies, Brazil's Agriculture Ministry said on Tuesday.
The deal is estimated at $100 million.
"We already have concrete information that South Korean businessmen are arriving (in Brazil) by February 15 to close on 50,000 tonnes of cut chicken," the ministry's executive secretary Jose Amauri Dimarzio told journalists.
...The Agriculture Ministry projected Brazil's chicken exports to grow 15 percent in 2004, due to the bird flu. It added that the strong demand for poultry in Brazil, the world's No. 2 poultry exporter, also should support the price of corn, which used in feed.
Dimarzio said the contract was for immediate delivery and the South Korean representatives were arriving to define the types of cuts and packaging they would need to attend to their market's demands.
4 February

China grounds homing pigeons, steps up poultry checks By Jonathan Ansfield

BEIJING, Feb 4 (Reuters) - China has stepped up checks on rail cargo and is hosing down buses and trucks to try to stop the spread of avian flu, but the World Health Organisation said it had yet to assess if the country was doing enough.
China's strident campaign on the disease has also begun to crimp the lifestyles of the nation's bird buffs. Beijing Zoo shut part of its bird garden and millions of homing pigeons reared by city folk were grounded, newspapers said.
... The Ministry of Railways was inspecting baggage from affected areas under a bird flu reporting system introduced on Tuesday and vehicles from those regions faced spot checks, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Beijing's largest bus company had resumed disinfecting its vehicles and depots daily, as it did during the SARS outbreak last year, and the city was spraying long-distance buses coming from flu-plagued zones, Xinhua said.

Official: Bird flu basically under control in China (China Daily By Zhao Huanxin)

The Ministry of Agriculture said this morning that China has basically brought the bird flu infection under control by Thursday.
There have been altogether 23 high pathogenic bird flu cases in China, including 18 suspected cases and five confirmed ones since the first confirmed cases was announced 27 January.
It was released by the ministry at the ongoing press conference organized by the State Council Information Office.
On Wednesday, China slaughtered more chickens and implemented compulsory vaccination in two more areas -- Guandu District of Kunming, Yunnan's capital and Gaolan County of Northwest China's Gansu Province, where suspected outbreaks of bird flu cases have been found.
The Ministry of Agriculture Wednesday also confirmed a previously suspected outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in Chenggong County in Yunnan Province, Southwest China.
Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin Wednesday assured two United Nations organizations that the bird flu situation in China is now basically under control, and that China can do a good job of preventing the spread of the highly contagious virus.
5 February

Mystery spike in avain virus raises worry of early China bird flu (The Nation, Thailand)

BEIJING, Feb 5 (AFP) - Six months ago, when Chinese officials reported a steep spike in Newcastle disease, a viral infection in birds, they may have been picking up early signals of the now Asia-wide avian flu epidemic, observers said.
Chinese data suggest a sudden rise in Newcastle disease, which has symptoms very similar to bird flu but is less dangerous, beginning in April last year, when the H5N1 virus is thought to have started multiplying in Asia.
"That's a red flag," said Henry Niman, a bioengineer at Harvard Medical School. "I can't say that it wasn't Newcastle disease, but I can say that it certainly has been used by other governments in the region to cover up."
Officials in Indonesia initially blamed a widespread viral outbreak among poultry on Newcastle disease, which is harmless to humans, until late last month, when they admitted the presence of bird flu.
Jia Youling, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture's spokesman on bird flu, Thursday denied that a similar mix-up might have taken place in China, asking people who thought so "to come up with evidence."
China had no instances of bird flu last year, whereas the number of Newcastle outbreaks rose dramatically in the latter half, according to the agriculture ministry's Monthly Epizootic Bulletin, a list of animal diseases.
In the first three months of 2003, Newcastle outbreaks hovered between 22 and 24 a month, only slightly higher than a monthly average of 16 in 2002.
Then suddenly in May last year, the number started sky-rocketing, and hit 106 in July. For both November and December of 2003, 100 outbreaks were recorded.
Mid-2003 is the same time that bird flu might have emerged, according to the World Health Organization this week, which noted that the virus was "quite well embedded" in parts of Asia.
The agriculture ministry's online bulletin -- which lacks data for April and June -- said Guangxi region has been particularly hard hit by Newcastle disease, registering at least 176 outbreaks in the course of 2003.
This destitute rural area near the border with Vietnam is also the location of China's first acknowledged outbreak of bird flu, confirmed only last week.
"It's definitely Newcastle disease, if the bulletin says so," said Jia, the agriculture ministry's spokesman.

Taiwan bird flu spreads, 230,000 fowl to be culled

TAIPEI, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Taiwan will cull an additional 230,000 poultry after a milder strain of the avian flu was detected at eight more farms across the island, agriculture officials said on Thursday.
Infections that began in central Taiwan are now reported as far north as the outskirts of the capital Taipei and into the southern counties, said Chiang Yi-nan, director of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine.
Despite the spread of the disease, Chiang was still confident they could control the spread of the disease by continuing with the current measures of increased islandwide testing at farms, slaughtering infected flocks and disinfection.
"Honestly speaking this is the best way to handle it. Our prevention measures are effective," said Chiang.

China confirms more bird flu outbreaks

BEIJING, Feb. 5 (Xinhuanet) -- China's Ministry of Agriculture Thursday received a report from the National Bird Flu Reference Laboratory confirming the previously suspected outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in east China's Anhui Province and Jiangxi Province.
The confirmed bird flu cases were found in Guangde County, Yushan District of Ma'anshan City, Jieshou City and Yingzhou District of Fuyang City in Anhui Province and Guixi City in Jiangxi Province.
Also reported were new suspected bird flu cases -- in Dongxiang County in Jiangxi Province, Shilin County in Yunnan Province, Luoding City and Haifeng County in south China's Guangdong Province.

Bird flu: Degrees of truth in Thailand By Richard S Ehrlich (Asia Times)

BANGKOK - Thailand did not really cover up the truth about the avian influenza that has now killed at least five Thais and is raging across Asia, but may have erred in the "degree" of truth it chose to publicize, the government's top spokesman has suggested.

"There was no cover-up," Jakrapob Penkair told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on Tuesday during a recorded panel discussion about the spread of the disease. "There was merely severe inefficiency within the government," he said. "Sometimes you don't even know what the hell you are doing."

..."So there are degrees of what you feel about things, and that's what happened about this crisis called 'the bird flu in Thailand'. There are many degrees of how you tell truth. There are degrees of how you would go, therefore, in judging whom you would tell that truth to.

"It is a passive society. People judge character before they speak the first word, [and] what kind of a word you would put in your sentence to speak to a person. It's a mind-reading country. That is why we don't speak straightforwardly, because we read minds and we speak what the other side wants to hear.

"It is not about bird flu only, it is the whole culture."

Fowl mess in Asia By Manjit Bhatia (Asia Times)

China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Pakistan, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia: infected. Alarm bells in Hamburg. Australian authorities harden against smuggled foodstuff and plants, confiscating even those declared to customs and quarantine officials, who destroy them without hesitation. People are dying in Vietnam and Thailand - as are chickens, by the millions, either of disease or of culling to prevent the spread of disease.

Once again, avian influenza is causing havoc in Asia. As the World Health Organization (WHO) warned against creating a panic, experts rushed to meet in Rome to find ways to stop the virus from mutating and spreading to general populations.

As governments and health officials grapple with this latest outbreak, however, there is one fact that is already well known: Asia is a breeding ground for animal-borne disease that can spread to humans. Much has been said about the tendency of certain governments, notably China's, Thailand's and Indonesia's, to block efficient communication about outbreaks of new diseases, preventing early action to halt epidemics. But that lack of transparency only aggravates the basic problem of how these diseases get started.

Let's be clear: Asia has the world's most disgusting social organization and management of its live-animal and bird markets. Apart from the wanton abuse of animal rights, the general environmental conditions at these markets are persistently filthy and all hygiene aspects are entirely questionable. Health practices are poorly regulated. Where regulations exist at all, corrupt officials often ignore them. On any given day, these markets - and the farms where live birds are bred and where agricultural practices are equally foul - possess all the natural conditions for incubating and delivering deadly diseases.

...The Asian appetite for different foods has grown phenomenally, commensurate with rises in personal disposable income. Also, growth in population and urbanization have led to rising demand for more diversified diets that invariably include more meat, eggs and dairy products. Subsequently agriculture has undergone fundamental changes. Back-yard farms have become industrial-sized fowl breeders in the most disgustingly cramped habitats. Said Dr Samuel Jutzi, director of animal production and health at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): "When you have that many animals in one spot, you are likely to get into trouble with disease."

The FAO estimates that per capita consumption of meat, eggs, milk and other dairy products has grown about 50 percent in the developing world from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. That has led to huge increases in breeding animal herds, with shorter production cycles and greater animal densities. In the past 25 years, chickens, pigs and ducks have seen the fastest growth rate. Add all this to Asians' fondness for shopping at live-animal markets and the chances for diseases developing suddenly multiply, notes the British journal New Scientist.

HHS And USDA Ban Importation Of Birds From Southeast Asia

Prompted by outbreaks of avian flu responsible for the deaths of millions of birds and at least 13 humans in Southeast Asia, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman have announced a ban on importation of birds from eight Southeast Asian countries. The ban, which is effective immediately, is designed to protect poultry and humans in the United States from the possible spread of avian influenza.

"These imports were already under tight restrictions because of the presence of exotic Newcastle disease in these countries," Secretary Veneman said. "However, the temporary ban puts additional safeguards in place."

The ban applies to birds and bird products from the following countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, and the People's Republic of China including Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. It excludes bird products processed to render them noninfectious. Processed avian products from these countries must have an import permit and government certification of treatment.

...The United States annually imports an estimated 20,000 birds arriving from countries with current avian influenza outbreaks, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Because the eight countries affected with the H5N1 subtype are not recognized as free of exotic Newcastle disease (END), poultry, pet birds and avian products from these countries were already subject to permitting requirements, and live birds and hatching eggs were required to be quarantined for 30 days after entry into the U.S. During the quarantine period, tests were conducted for both avian influenza and END.

This one from Hutch:

Updated Situation in China (5 pages of detail, via and from originally)

Bird flu here linked to '96 China strain Japan's H5N1 virus deemed 97% identical to deadly Guangdong variety (Japan Times)

The bird flu virus that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of chickens in Japan and Vietnam is closely related to the one discovered at a goose farm in China's Guangdong Province in 1996, Japanese researchers said Thursday.
The virus found in China is called Gd96 and gave rise to the H5N1 strain, the researchers said. The H5N1 virus led to the outbreak of bird flu in Honk Kong in 1997 that killed six people.
The viral strain found recently in Yamaguchi Prefecture is also H5N1.
The researchers believe it is highly likely that the current outbreak originated in China.
The National Institute of Animal Health in Japan compared genes isolated from samples taken from infected chickens in Yamaguchi with genes of other H5N1 viruses found in other countries.
The researchers found the base sequence of the HA gene, which determines virus types, was 97 percent identical with the base sequence of the virus that caused the death of a man in Hong Kong in February 2003.

Scientists find deadly 1918 flu more birdlike than once thought By LAURAN NEERGAARD Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The 1918 flu that killed 20 million people appears to be more birdlike than previously thought, according to findings by U.S. and British researchers that could help explain why it was the deadliest influenza strain ever recorded.
The work doesn't have direct implications for Asia's current outbreak of bird flu, a strain that doesn't seem able to easily infect many people.
But the findings, to be published Friday by the journal Science, do highlight how important it is to monitor avian flu — because the research suggests it might take fewer genetic adaptations than once thought for a bird virus to begin spreading from person to person.
The research, conducted separately by scientists at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and at Britain's Medical Research Council, used lung samples preserved from victims of the 1918 flu to reconstruct a protein crucial to their infection.
"These were not little steps but big strides toward understanding, at the structural and molecular level, what it is about these strains that make them dangerous," said Dr. Gregory Poland, a flu specialist at the Mayo Clinic who reviewed the research.
The findings don't completely explain the 1918 strain's virulence, cautioned Michael Perdue, who investigates avian flu at the Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service. Other factors than the protein studied, called hemagglutinin, play a role too, he said.
But "this would put together several pieces" of that puzzle, Perdue said. Also, "it suggests the potential is certainly there for rapid transition from an avian to a mammalian strain."

[see The Structure and Receptor-Binding Properties of the 1918 Influenza Hemagglutinin S. J. Gamblin et al.]

Bird Flu May Slow Corn, Soy Exports (High Plains Journal)

...Thailand, the fourth-largest poultry exporter in the world, imports oilseeds for poultry feed. Though it purchases more from Argentina, Thailand bought 630,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans and 100,000 metric tons of U.S. soymeal in 2002-2003.
In 2001, Thailand imported 247,000 metric tons of U.S. soymeal.
6 February

China's provincial transport network could spread bird flu: officials (Channel News Asia)

XIANGFAN, China: Lax quarantine and inspection of poultry transported across China's provinces point to one likely conduit of the bird flu sweeping the country, health officials say.
Although there is no definitive theory on how the avian flu affecting Asia has spread, China's massive network of transport links could be to blame for the rapid rise of the disease within its own borders.
Xiangfan, a city of 5.7 million people in China's central Hubei province, reported its first case of suspected bird flu on February 4, at a small farm some 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the city centre.
Officials here are confident that its defences are adequate, although open-air trucks loaded with caged poultry routinely pull into the city's two wholesale markets from other provinces.
Even though Hubei has banned imports from several outbreak areas in China, birds are still being hauled from Xinye county, some two hours away in neighbouring Henan province, which has one case of reported bird flu.
Officials here do not think it poses any risk but some say it highlights the continued risk in a transport system that could have spread the disease before health officials were aware it was there.

Racing pigs to replace culled performing ducks (Ananova)

A circus troupe of performing ducks in Vietnam has become the latest victim of the bird flu epidemic in the region.
The 150 ducks, members of the Cu Chi Ecological Tourism Park circus troupe, have been destroyed as part of Vietnam's mass cull to contain the epidemic.
The park's deputy director, Nguyen Hoang Thanh, said the ducks, who have been a star attraction for a year, are to be replaced by a team of racing pigs.
"I am very sad because we trained the ducks for three months, but we have no choice. Tourists, especially kids, were very keen on the show," he said.
It would take at least six months to train another flock of ducks, he said. The web-footed artists were trained to slide down a chute into a pond and assist in other circus performances. Some 50,000 visitors toured the park last year, he said.