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. Health Wrap: Of Polio And Pandemics

By Dan Olmsted
UPI Health Editor
Washington (UPI) Oct 17, 2005
There was bad news on the health front this week. Bird flu arrived in Europe, and the polio virus showed up in Minnesota. On Thursday the European Union confirmed that a poultry farm in northwestern Turkey has been infected by the highly contagious H5N1 type of bird flu.

This is the first time the strain, which has wiped out millions of birds in Asia and killed over 60 people, has been found on the European continent.

In Minnesota, health officials reported, four Amish children were infected with polio virus identified as coming from the oral polio vaccine that has not been used in the United States in recent years. Therefore, officials believe, the Amish somehow came in contact with someone exposed to it -- despite their lack of interaction with the outside world.

Many Amish don't get immunizations; they are legally exempted from mandated shots because of their religious beliefs. The polio virus presents no threat to anyone who's been vaccinated -- which is just about everybody else -- and health authorities were trying to convince Amish families to do the same.

Containing the bird flu is another matter altogether. The fear: a mutation that could cause human-to-human transmission, potentially setting off a pandemic that would threaten to kill millions.

On Thursday the EU issued a ban on all poultry products from Romania after test results confirmed the presence of H5 bird flu in a paddling of ducks in the Danube delta.

Both Turkish and Romanian authorities have begun culling poultry in the infected zones. In the area surrounding the Danube delta, authorities have slaughtered some 20,000 birds to contain the virus. However, in both cases migratory birds are suspected of being the source of infection.

Fears of the lethal virus spreading to the EU have escalated, as the wetlands surrounding the Danube are a transit point for wild birds from Scandinavia, Poland and Germany.

The EU Thursday told its 25 member states to beef up bio-security and hygiene. So far the Netherlands is the only EU country to have locked up all poultry. Other member states have stockpiled anti-viral drugs and stepped up surveillance.

Around the world, governments did what they could to stave off and prepare for an epidemic.

-- The British government is asking birdwatchers to watch for and report migratory birds that appear sick.

The government has publicized a phone number where the public can report unusually high numbers of birds that have died in one location in a relatively short period of time, but not "any old sick pigeon," said Ruth Cromie of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

-- Australia has joined Canada and the United States in adding protection against avian influenza to its counter-terrorism plans. The Melbourne Herald Sun reports that experts fear that the H5N1 strain of the bird-flu virus could be used by terrorists.

-- The German government has summoned a crisis task force to protect the country from the looming threat of the avian flu. The German crisis group, which includes a representative from each of the 15 German states and experts from the Federal Institute for Animal Health, met Wednesday in Bonn, Deutsche Welle reported.

-- A source at the Saudi Health Ministry said Wednesday that authorities are seeking to stockpile vaccines and have increased health control at airports, ports and land crossings. The source played down the possible transfer of the flu by migrating birds, noting that most birds coming to Saudi Arabia originate from Europe.

But with the news Thursday that the bird flu has indeed arrived in Europe, those precautions look prescient.

All rights reserved. 2005 United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of United Press International.

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Seoul (UPI) Oct 13, 2005
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Thursday that a new strain of the bird flu virus may turn into a global pandemic and jump to millions of people.
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