U.N.: Avian-flu battle is being lost

By KATE WALKER, UPI Correspondent   |   Dec. 19, 2005 at 2:25 PM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- David Nabarro, avian-flu coordinator for the United Nations, said Monday that the world is "losing the battle" in regard to avian flu in birds.

"We are losing the battle against this particular (avian-flu outbreak in birds and domestic poultry). We must focus on stamping it out.

"This H5N1 virus is slowly changing though genetic re-assortment or mutation. The change is slow, but if this virus undergoes the change that leads to sustained human-to-human transmission, then we have a major problem. Then we probably will have the next human pandemic influenza. This is (a) serious risk.

"Virologists who study these things say do not get complacent. It is quite feasible that H5N1 could mutate. The fact that it has taken some years should not lead you to believe that we are through the worst.

"We believe that it is starting to spread into Africa. I do hope that the Malawi case is not H5N1. If they are, then it's very serious."

Meanwhile:

-- Thousands of dead birds discovered in the central Malawi district of Ntchisi have sparked fears of avian influenza.

Thousands of Fork-Tailed Drongos began dropping dead in the Mwera Hills district, and locals took the birds home to eat.

"Someone alerted police that people are feasting on mysterious manna from heaven and when police contacted us we sent officials to caution the people not to eat them since they may have the avian flu which has proved deadly to humans in other countries," said Wilfred Lipita, director of livestock and animal health in Malawi's Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

The government has released a statement warning people not to eat dead birds and to alert officials of any mass bird deaths.

Samples from the Drongos are being tested for H5N1 in South Africa, and a bird-flu task force has been assembled to deal with the possible outbreak.

-- U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have seized 51 shipments of counterfeit Tamiflu in San Francisco.

The drugs, which had been shipped from Asia, had all been ordered for personal use from Web sites.

The Food and Drug Administration announced that the seized drugs "were found to be not consistent with authentic Tamiflu product manufactured by Roche."

-- Local tests have shown that an 8-year-old Indonesian boy has died of avian influenza. The test results must be confirmed by the World Health Organization before the death is officially attributed to bird flu.

The boy, who died in Jakarta last week, may have been in contact with infected chickens, although it is not known for sure.

-- Russian media announced Monday that 186 dead swans found in the central Russian republic of Kalmykia died of bird flu. The announcement did not mention a specific strain of bird flu.

Veterinary quarantine has been imposed in the Krasinsky rural municipal entity, while surrounding areas have been declared at "high-risk" for avian-influenza outbreaks.

-- Romania has reported another potential outbreak of avian flu, this time among chickens in a village 60 miles east of Bucharest.

Nicolae Stefan, head of the Animal Health and Diagnosis Institute, said, "Preliminary tests taken from several hens in the village of Traian show suspicion for the H5 type, but the virus hasn't been isolated yet."

The village has been quarantined, and all domestic birds will be culled in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

-- The U.S. House of Representatives Monday passed a defense spending bill that included funding for an avian-influenza pandemic.

Some $3.78 billion was approved for the fight against avian influenza at home and abroad, nearly half the total proposed by President George W. Bush in his avian-influenza pandemic speech in early November.

-- Chinese authorities have shut down a university avian-flu lab because it "did not meet state regulations."

The lab was run by Guan Yi, who last week was quoted by a number of media sources, including United Press International, as criticizing the Chinese government's response to avian influenza and accusing it of hiding the true extent of outbreaks within the country.

--

E-mail: consumerhealth@upi.com

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