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. Secrecy Breeds Confusion In Iran Over Flu Preparations

The northern Sumatra cluster that has been the focus of much media attention for the last few weeks is a mere 100 miles from peninsular Malaysia, across the Malacca Straits, and officials are worried that illegal smuggling of infected birds across the narrow waterway could see similar outbreaks and potential clusters in Malaysia.
by Kate Walker
Oxford, England (UPI) May 25, 2006
While Iranian secrecy over its nuclear program has been the subject of much media attention over recent months, the spotlight is currently on the mix of information currently emerging from the country with regard to what may -- or may not -- have been its first human deaths from avian-influenza infection.

Reports from Iran this week stated that an Iranian medical official had announced that two members of the same family had died of avian-influenza infection and that they were but two of a cluster of five infected people, one other of whom was seriously ill.

The family in question comes from Kermanshah, in northwestern Iran, and fell ill after returning to a visit to the nearby town of Marivan. Both towns are near the border with Iraq, which is itself the subject of avian-influenza confusion, as while only one infectious cluster has been identified, there is at least one other suspected cluster.

But on Tuesday Iranian Health Minister Kamran Lankarani informed the media that the siblings' deaths -- a 41-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman -- had been proved through testing to have been the result of pneumonia and that his country had yet to see any cases of H5N1 infection in humans.

Further complicating matters, Iranian officials said Monday that samples from the siblings had been sent to international laboratories for confirmation of the local results, but Hassan al-Bushra, the World Health Organization's Cairo-based regional adviser for emerging diseases, said that his office had been told the Iranian results were negative for avian-influenza infection and that no Iranian samples had been received by his laboratories.

Meanwhile:

-- Romanian Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu has denied reports in local media claiming that the incidents of avian-influenza outbreaks among the country's poultry flocks have come from infected birds being illegally smuggled in from Hungary and Slovakia.

"I heard about this speculation that imported chicken brought the virus in Romania. That's not true. I can tell you that there is no proof that imports from Hungary and Slovakia triggered the new outbreaks in Romania," Tariceanu told local private television station Realitatea TV.

SRI, the Romanian Intelligence Service, produced a report, later leaked to the media, that said it could not rule out the possibility that the country's recent outbreaks had been a result of illegal smuggling activities.

"The SRI cannot exclude the hypothesis that the outbreak might have been caused by imports of birds," the report read.

-- Following confirmation of the Indonesian avian-influenza cluster, Malaysian customs officials have been ordered to crack down on illegal poultry smuggling and have announced their plans to step up checks and controls on the country's borders.

The northern Sumatra cluster that has been the focus of much media attention for the last few weeks is a mere 100 miles from peninsular Malaysia, across the Malacca Straits, and officials are worried that illegal smuggling of infected birds across the narrow waterway could see similar outbreaks and potential clusters in Malaysia.

The focus of the increased checks will be at Port Klang and Malacca, the two most common points of entry from Sumatran Indonesia.

In addition to more stringent checks at customs, health officials along the Malaysian border and at points of entry have been instructed to be on the lookout for potential carriers, especially among foreign workers and those who have traveled to infected areas.

-- The publicity surrounding the Sumatran family cluster has led to divisions between the Indonesian government and local villagers, some of whom are actively trying to prevent health authorities from identifying the source of the outbreak.

Tests conducted in the region have shown the presence of the H5 avian-influenza antibodies in a range of animals, including pigs, chickens and ducks, but the local authorities have been unable to test for the N1 subtype, as they have been unable to acquire the necessary reference materials from the WHO.

In addition to these logistical difficulties, villagers refused to help the local animal health authorities collect the samples required for testing, leaving the authorities high and dry.

Following the spread of the news of the cluster, the local poultry industry was decimated, and the villagers, angry at their loss of income, have been defiant.

On Monday approximately 100 locals involved in the poultry industry tore apart live chickens with their bare hands, pledging to feast on chickens and pigs killed and cooked in blood, a local tradition.

Source: United Press International

Related Links
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China reports two new avian flu outbreaks among migratory birds
Beijing (AFP) May 24, 2006
China Wednesday reported two new outbreaks of avian flu among migratory birds, bringing to four the number of such cases recorded in the northwest over the past month.

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