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. Fear Of Human Spread Of Bird Flu Lessens

As the autumnal migration of wild birds begins, governments along migratory routes are warning their citizens that further avian influenza outbreaks are possible, and that care and diligence should be taken when dealing with dead birds. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Kate Walker
UPI Correspondent
Washington DC (UPI) Aug 24, 2006
Despite a number of recent deaths and infections in Indonesia that looked as though they may have been an infection cluster, the World Health Organization has confirmed that there is no evidence that bird flu has gained human-to-human transmissibility.

The Cikelet region of Indonesia's West Java province is remote, accessible only by motorbike or horse. News travels there slowly, and is often the result of Chinese whispers. So when a number of locals died of flu-like symptoms in a short space of time and WHO investigators arrived, they were unsurprised to discover that a lack of information had led to unsafe practices.

"As the population had no experience with this disease, high-risk behaviors commonly occurred during the disposal of carcasses or the preparation of sick or dead birds for consumption," WHO said in a statement.

"Though some of the undiagnosed deaths occurred in family members of confirmed cases, the investigation has found no evidence of human-to-human transmission and no evidence that the virus is spreading more easily from birds to humans."

Birds in the area began to die in large numbers after birds purchased outside Cikelet were incorporated into flocks in July.

Indonesian authorities have begun to test all those who were in contact with the bird flu victims and sufferers; so far all have been returned negative. To prevent further outbreaks of the disease, 2,400 people in the area have been provided with Tamiflu, and 2,500 chickens have been culled.

Meanwhile:

-- Thai authorities are using a team of 800,000 health volunteers to educate the public about avian influenza and means of preventing it.

The volunteers will go door-to-door throughout 30 provinces which have been affected by bird flu, and will present householders with posters and leaflets with simple language and easy-to-understand cartoons.

In announcing the initiative Wednesday Thai Health Minister Pinij Jarusombat said: "They will give information to people about what they should do to be seriously safe from bird flu."

The education drive begins Wednesday and will continue for nine days.

Previous efforts to educate the Thai populace about methods of bird flu prevention have included similar education drives organized by the Agriculture Ministry and television advertising.

-- As the autumnal migration of wild birds begins, governments along migratory routes are warning their citizens that further avian influenza outbreaks are possible, and that care and diligence should be taken when dealing with dead birds.

The latest country to issue such a warning was Turkey, where domestic bird keepers have been told they should reprise the precautionary measures put into place last year. These include keeping domestic birds penned and avoiding all contact with wild birds.

Some have called for the widespread vaccination of all domestic birds, but no such plan is yet in place.

Turkey first saw an avian influenza outbreak in October 2005. Between December 2005 and February 2006, more than one-third of Turkish provinces saw outbreaks of avian flu in birds. At least six people died.

-- The Dutch Agriculture Ministry this week ordered farmers to begin keeping their poultry flocks indoors from Sept. 1 to guard against avian influenza outbreaks caused by migrating birds.

In a statement released Tuesday, the ministry advised farmers: "During the forthcoming migration period, there is a risk that migratory birds can spread bird flu. For this reason all holders of chickens, geese and other birds should keep them indoors."

In lieu of keeping the birds indoors, the ministry added, farmers could instead construct pens and enclosures which would prevent the poultry flocks from coming into contact with migrating birds.

The Netherlands, which is one of the world's largest exporters of poultry and Europe's second-largest poultry producer, has yet to identify any incidence of H5N1 infection in commercial poultry.

Earlier this month two suspected cases of avian influenza infection were reported in owls in a zoo in Rotterdam. Initial tests ruled out H5N1 infection as a cause of illness, but the conclusive result is expected this week.

Source: United Press International

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For more than 20 years, scientists have been searching for the vaccine they believe can end the 25-year-old AIDS pandemic, a worldwide health disaster that has claimed more than 25 million lives. As Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, says, "That landmark means AIDS has taken more lives than were lost during the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages."

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