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EPIDEMICS
Bird flu costs China industry $65 bn: state media
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 20, 2013


Impossible to predict outcome in China's bird flu outbreak: WHO
Geneva (AFP) May 20, 2013 - It is impossible to predict the evolution of China's human H7N9 bird flu outbreak as researchers are still trying to understand the source of human transmission, the head of the World Health Organisation said Monday.

According to the latest official data, H7N9 avian influenza has infected 130 people in China, and killed 35, since it was found in humans for the first time in March.

"Influenza viruses constantly reinvent themselves. No one can predict the future course of this outbreak," Margaret Chan said, but added that "although the source of human infection with the virus is not yet fully understood, the number of new cases dropped dramatically following the closing of (China's) live poultry markets."

"At present, human-to-human transmission of the virus is negligible," she said in her address to some 3,000 delegates attending the 66th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Chan also thanked China for its close collaboration with WHO in sharing its information on the situation and for having "promptly traced, monitored, and tested thousands of patient contacts".

Chan also talked about the deadly SARS-like coronavirus, detected for the first time in the Middle East last year. "To date, 41 cases, including 20 deaths, have been reported," she said, adding that "though the number of cases remains small, limited human-to-human transmission has occurred and health care workers have been infected."

The virus is a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which triggered a scare 10 years ago when it erupted in east Asia, leaping to humans from animal hosts and eventually killing some 800 people.

"These two new diseases remind us that the threat from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases is ever-present. Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of the microbial world. It will always deliver surprises."

China's human H7N9 bird flu outbreak has cost the country's poultry industry more than 400 billion yuan ($65 billion) as consumers shun chicken, government officials said according to state media Monday.

The sector has been losing an average of one billion yuan a day since the end of March, the Beijing Times said, citing Li Xirong, head of the National Animal Husbandry Service.

H7N9 avian influenza has infected 130 people in China, killing 35, since it was found in humans for the first time, according to latest official data.

Poultry sales have tumbled and prices plunged, Li said, causing major financial problems and job losses as a result.

Another agriculture ministry official, Wang Zongli, said government agencies should set a good example for the public by treating "poultry products in a correct way", the report added.

In a stunt to boost confidence, officials and poultry business leaders in the eastern province of Shandong held a widely reported all-chicken lunch last week, according to Chinese media.

China has seen several food safety scares in recent years, including one in which the industrial chemical melamine was added to dairy products in 2008, killing at least six babies and making 300,000 ill.

Nobel laureate plays down flu pandemic scaremongering
Wellington (AFP) May 21, 2013 - A Nobel prize-winning scientist Tuesday played down "shock-horror scenarios" that a new virus strain will emerge with the potential to kill millions of people.

Peter Doherty, who jointly won the Nobel prize in 1996 for his work on how the immune system combats virus-infected cells, said the worst-case scenario was a new virus with a high mortality rate that was also highly infectious.

The Australian said the world experienced such a pandemic in 1918, when an influenza variant killed an estimated 50 million people, more than twice the number who died in World War I.

Doherty said it was possible such an outbreak could occur again but it was unlikely to have such devastating consequences.

"A lot of the (1918) deaths were undoubtedly due to secondary bacterial infection and, of course, we have antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infection now," he said at a lecture at Otago University's Wellington campus.

"In the pandemic world we all look to these shock-horror scenarios -- it makes good television, there's a lot of books about these terrible infections that are going to kill us all off.

"It makes a good book, it makes it terribly scary (but) I actually think that we'll do a lot better than that with most pandemics."

Doherty said analysis of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, a form of influenza which killed about 800 people, took three months when it emerged a decade ago.

The University of Melbourne-based scientist said similar work would now take just days.

"We're doing extremely well with virus diagnosis, rapid detection and all sorts of things like that, much better than in the past, so I don't think a pandemic is going to kill us all off," he said.

Doherty said the H1N1 "swine flu" which sickened millions around the world in 2009 was an example of an highly infectious strain with a relatively low mortality rate, with some 18,500 deaths reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Another strain, H7N9, emerged in China in March and has a high mortality rate of 36 deaths from 130 cases, according to official data. But there is no evidence it can be transmitted from human to human.

The WHO has also since last September confirmed 40 cases of a coronavirus closely related to SARS. It has caused 20 deaths, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

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