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EPIDEMICS
H7N9 vaccine may take months: US agency
by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) April 12, 2013


Death toll hits 10 in China bird flu outbreak
Shanghai (AFP) April 11, 2013 - The death toll from H7N9 bird flu in China reached 10 on Thursday with another victim in Shanghai, as cities banned people from raising chickens at home to try to contain the outbreak.

China has confirmed 38 human cases of H7N9 avian influenza after announcing on March 31 that it had found the strain in people for the first time.

One person, a young boy in Shanghai, has been discharged from hospital after recovering but the city reported the death of a 74-year-old retired man on Thursday.

Chinese authorities say they do not know how the virus is spreading, but it is believed to be crossing to humans from birds.

Experts fear the prospect of such viruses mutating into a form easily transmissible between humans has the potential to trigger a pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said earlier this week that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FA0) said Thursday that H7N9 showed "affinity" to humans while being harder to detect in birds, which made finding the source of transmission more difficult.

"This new virus shows very strong affinity to humans and infects poultry but causes very mild or no disease," said Subhash Morzaria, Asia regional manager for the FAO's emergency centre for animal diseases.

"So from a perspective of understanding the transmission, we have a problem because these poultry are silent carriers of the virus," he told a news conference in Bangkok.

The prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences said Wednesday H7N9 had probably originated from migratory birds from East Asia mixing with domestic fowl in China's Yangtze River delta region -- the site of the current outbreak.

Five more markets across eastern China had found H7N9 in samples from chickens and ducks, the Ministry of Agriculture said Wednesday.

Nanjing city had barred urban residents from raising poultry and livestock on their property, asking them to cull their own animals and fining them up to 50 yuan ($8) for violations, the China Daily newspaper reported on Thursday.

"People from the neighbourhood committee came to my house, asking me to kill the chickens I have been raising, but I really didn't have the courage," a Nanjing resident using the name Niuye Buniuma said on a microblog.

Shanghai said it would enforce a long-standing ban against residents raising poultry and rabbits for meat, giving a telephone hotline for people to inform on their neighbours for violating the rules.

"Many citizens have expressed the reaction that raising chickens, ducks and pets in their neighbourhoods might bring danger to the surroundings," a Shanghai government statement said.

Shanghai last week suspended trading in live poultry and shut markets in a bid to curb the outbreak while Nanjing did the same, followed by other cities.

The Shanghai government said it would offer compensation for losses in the poultry industry, including payments of two or three yuan ($0.32 or $0.48) for chickens from smaller farms.

China's State Council, or cabinet, Wednesday urged "efficiency and transparency" in tackling the outbreak as the government tries to show openness after being accused of covering up Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

There are signs the H7N9 bird flu outbreak is hurting business in some sectors, including restaurants.

US fast food giant KFC, already hit by an earlier scandal in China over antibiotics in chicken, saw March sales in the country plunge 16 percent.

"Publicity associated with avian flu in China has had a significant, negative impact on KFC sales,' parent Yum! Brands said Wednesday.

Hong Kong is stepping up rapid testing for H7N9 in all live poultry imported from mainland China.

Developing a vaccine for the H7N9 strain of bird flu that has killed 10 people in eastern China could take "many months", US public health experts have said.

Chinese authorities had confirmed 38 human cases of H7N9 avian influenza as of Thursday evening after announcing nearly two weeks ago that they had found the strain in humans for the first time.

Earlier vaccines targeting similar viruses had produced poor results, two members of the influenza division of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Even if new vaccine manufacturing technologies... are utilised, the process from vaccine development to availability will probably take many months," said Timothy Uyeki and Nancy Cox.

Although worldwide efforts to develop a vaccine had already started based on early cases, clinical trials would also be needed, said the article posted on the journal's website on Thursday.

The Chinese government said Wednesday that it expected to have a vaccine ready within seven months, state media reported.

China's Ministry of Science and Technology and the health ministry were jointly working on the vaccine, the Xinhua news agency said.

China has also developed a test for H7N9, distributing kits to hospitals and other monitoring sites, Xinhua said.

The journal article praised China's speed in identifying the virus, though it called for enhanced surveillance of people with respiratory illness and monitoring of the contacts of infected patients.

Chinese authorities say they do not know how the virus is spreading but they have so far ruled out human-to-human transmission, a conclusion echoed by the World Health Organization.

Animal health agency: Bird flu poses 'exceptional situation'
Paris (AFP) April 11, 2013 - The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on Thursday said H7N9 bird flu posed an "exceptional situation" as the outbreak among Chinese poultry claimed a 10th human victim.

"Based on the information currently available we are facing a rather exceptional situation," said OIE chief Bernard Vallat, explaining that the virus, while dangerous to humans, was hard to detect in the host, which is farm birds.

"We are dealing with an influenza virus of very low pathogenicity for poultry which has the potential to cause severe disease when it infects humans," Vallat said in a statement.

The Paris-based OIE said that, based on reports sent to it by the Chinese veterinary authorities, infected birds "do not show any visible signs of disease, making it very difficult to detect this virus in poultry."

The OIE is the world's monitor for the health of farm animals traded across borders.

Past food crises it has handled include the mad-cow scare and the H5N1 bird flu, a different strain of avian influenza that first surfaced in Hong Kong in 1997.

On Thursday, China said the death toll from H7N9 reached 10 out of 38 confirmed human cases, with another fatality in Shanghai.

The virus is believed to spread to humans from birds, triggering the mass culling of poultry in several Chinese cities.

The fear is that the virus will mutate, making it transmissible from human to human.

The OIE said it had been informed of eight outbreaks of H7N9 in pigeons and chickens at Chinese markets, "all located in Shanghai and neighbouring provinces."

The possible reservoir for the virus in nature is being probed by the China Animal Disease Control Centre and China's animal health service, including a world-standard laboratory, the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute.

"At the international level, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are working together to support China's efforts to manage this new and evolving situation," the OIE statement added.

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