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FluWrap: Plague pits and mass burials?

By KATE WALKER, UPI Correspondent   |   April 4, 2006 at 12:53 PM   |   Comments

OXFORD, England, April 4 (UPI) -- Britain's contingency plans for an avian-influenza pandemic include the possible use of mass graves.

A Home Office report entitled "Managing Excess Deaths in an Influenza Pandemic" predicts that as many as 320,000 people could die in a short period of time, overwhelming the country's morgues and burial facilities.

The report reads: "Common burial might involve a large number of coffins buried in the same place at the same time, in such a way that allowed for individual graves to be marked.

"Even with ramping local management capacity by 100 percent, the prudent worst case of 320,000 deaths is projected to lead to a delay of some 17 weeks from death to burial or cremation.

"If the rate of death peaks at 2.5 percent, the message is simple -- no matter what emergency arrangements are put in place there are likely to be substantially more deaths than can be managed within the current timescales."

If a pandemic lasts 15 weeks, the health authorities in England and Wales could cope with 48,000 deaths, less than 20 percent of the possible projected total.

Meanwhile:

-- The World Health Organization Tuesday confirmed that four suspected cases of human avian infection in Egypt were in fact H5N1.

The four cases had all previously been identified as H5N1 by the Egyptian Ministry of Health; today's WHO confirmation was for the purposes of official figures.

Of the four cases, two have fully recovered from the disease. Samples from three more suspected cases are currently being tested.

--The WHO Monday confirmed that an 8-year-old Indonesian girl who died last year was the country's 24th victim of avian influenza.

Samples taken from the girl had not been sent to a WHO-affiliated laboratory for testing, and results were returned yesterday.

Runizar Rusin, Indonesia's avian-flu czar, was quoted by Mail&GuardianOnline as saying, "Following testing at the WHO laboratory in Hong Kong, the results were sent back to us yesterday (Monday) and were positive."

But a WHO representative in Jakarta said that she had been given no information relating to an increased death toll, nor had the organization's Hong Kong laboratory received any fresh samples for testing.

"However, we are now following up the veracity of the report," she said.

-- Avian influenza has been detected on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, making Burkina Faso the fifth African country to fall victim to avian influenza.

Tiemoko Konate, the country's livestock minister, said, "Further to deaths noted in February among poultry and wild birds, 65 specimens from various regions of the country were sent to reference laboratories of the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization."

Of the 65 specimens tested, only one, from a motel outside Ouagadougou, showed signs of H5N1 infection.

Burkinabe officials have set up a 2-mile safety zone around the motel and are in the process of culling poultry at the motel and vaccinating birds within the safety zone.

-- The Czech Republic has reported its seventh case of avian-influenza infection, this time in a swan found dead over the weekend.

It has been confirmed that the bird was infected with an H5 strain of avian influenza, but further tests are needed to determine the subtype.

-- Thirty-two wild swans in Poland found to be infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza have been culled.

The birds, which were found in the northern Polish city of Torun, were culled late Monday, the Polish Press Agency reported.

-- An unnamed Israeli government official has blamed the spread of bird flu in the country on journalists.

FreeMarketNews.com Tuesday quoted an unidentified Agriculture Ministry official as saying: "It's one of our working hypotheses.

"Bird flu can be transmitted on clothing, footwear, the wheels of cars, and even on cameras. The journalists who came to cover the outbreak ... went back to homes and offices across the country. Even if the required protective measures were taken, it is impossible to disinfect photographic equipment without damaging it."

--

E-mail: consumerhealth@upi.com

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