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Are we really one mutation away from transferable h2h bird flu?

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Devastating bird flu pandemic one step away - expert

15:39 | 07/ 03/ 2006


MOSCOW, March 7 (RIA Novosti) - The world is one step away from a bird flu pandemic that cannot be averted by quarantine or vaccination, a Russian expert said Tuesday.


"One amino-acid replacement in the genome remains to make the virus transferable from human to human," said Dmitry Lvov, the director of a virology research institute at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences.


Lvov said the pandemic virus could strike at any moment, and would most likely come from China, leading to tens of millions of human deaths, or one third of the global population. He added quarantine measures could delay the pandemic for a few days but not prevent it, and that vaccination would not stop people getting sick.


"A good vaccine will only save [people] from death and complications, but not from the illness itself," he said.


Lvov said any pandemic was based on a hybridization of the bird and human viruses.


Pigs are the most vulnerable animals in the face of both human and bird viruses, which makes them "an intermediary link between human and bird flu," he said.


Lvov said the bird flu pandemic was irreversible like any other natural cataclysm, and would not stop until the highly pathogenic strain mutates into a less dangerous one.


"When will it stop? When highly pathogenic strains localized in wild birds are once again transformed into a low-pathogenic one according to the law of nature," Lvov said.


He said all that could be done to deal with the pandemic was large amounts of vaccination, hundreds of thousands of beds in intensive care, and the necessary instruments and medicines.


Lvov also said that the bird flu virus would shortly sweep the south of central Russia, specifically the Astrakhan, Rostov-on-Don, and Volgograd Regions.


The Agriculture Ministry said Monday that bird flu had been registered in eight regions in the south of the country, a major stopover area for migrating birds.


The ministry said over 1.3 million birds had died or been slaughtered in three outbreaks of bird flu since July 2005.



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This is a big headsup, Darlene. Thanks for posting.


Bird Flu to Hit U.S. This Spring; Human Epidemic Looms, UN Says





March 8 (Bloomberg) -- Avian flu is likely to spread to birds in the U.S. within six months and could produce an epidemic among humans ``at any time,'' said the United Nations official who monitors global efforts to fight the disease.


David Nabarro told reporters in New York today that wild birds migrating over the Arctic Circle from Africa and Europe this spring would carry the H5N1 virus to Alaska, and that avian flu would probably reach America's lower 48 states six months later. This is the first time a top global health official has predicted when birds carrying the flu will arrive in the U.S.


``Every country in the world now needs to have its veterinary services on high alert for H5N1 to be sure they are not caught unawares,'' said Nabarro, a physician with the World Health Organization who is senior UN system coordinator for Avian and human influenza.


The flu strain, which has spread across Asia, Africa and Europe, is currently raging through poultry farms in Nigeria, the most populous nation on a continent ravaged by poverty and HIV/AIDS. Health authorities are concerned that the virus is taking root in Africa, where it threatens to infect humans, as it has in Asia and the Middle East, and possibly mutate into a deadly pandemic form.


Avian flu infected at least 31 people in the first two months of this year, killing 20 of them, according to the Geneva-based WHO. That's twice as many cases and fatalities reported compared with the same two months of 2005. The virus has killed at least 96 of 175 people infected since late 2003.


`Sooner or Later'


``There will be a pandemic sooner or later,'' Nabarro said during a news conference today at the UN. ``It could start any time. We have a virus capable of replicating inside humans. We have a virus that humans are not resistant to. We have a virus about which we don't understand everything. It is at this stage of a pandemic alert that we have the luxury of being able to be prepared.''


U.S. Health Secretary Michael Leavitt told a Senate committee March 1 that the H5N1 virus might spread to the U.S. ``soon.'' The virus' appearance is ``just a matter of time; it may be very soon,'' he said in his testimony.


The Nigerian government this week began distributing compensation payments to farmers affected by the virus, which has spread in the past two months to almost a third of the country's 36 states. International aid organizations are counting on the payments to spur more culling and to help stem the trade of infected poultry.




Containing avian outbreaks in oil-rich Nigeria's Delta region, on the Atlantic coast, may be complicated by kidnappings and attacks that forced Royal Dutch Shell Plc's Nigerian joint venture to halt crude oil output of 455,000 barrels a day, about a fifth of Nigeria's daily production.


There have been no reported human cases of avian influenza in Nigeria, the government said.


Albania reported its first case of bird flu in domesticated poultry, the World Organization for Animal Health said. All 60 infected birds died from the H5N1 virus in the village of Cuke in Vlore state, the group said in a statement.


Germany's Federal Research Institute for Animal Health said today it had confirmed the H5N1 virus in two more cats on the northern island of Ruegen. The cats came from Schaprode in the west of the island, close to where the first case of bird flu in a cat was reported last week, the institute said in an e-mailed statement. The German government has ordered cat owners in areas affected by bird flu to keep their pets indoors.


The U.S. government plans to test almost eight times as many wild birds this year as in the past decade to protect against the spread of bird flu, USA Today said, citing the Agriculture Department. Starting in April, samples from as many as 100,000 birds will be tested, mainly in Alaska, the newspaper said.

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UN officials rehearse plans for bird flu pandemic





By Mark Turner at the United Nations

Published: March 8 2006 22:25 | Last updated: March 8 2006 22:25



Earlier this week a group of the UN’s most senior managers met on the 38th floor of their New York headquarters to consider a frightening scenario.


Bird flu had reached New York and could now be transmitted between humans.


Travel restrictions were in place, aviation was at a standstill, communications were under strain, and UN staff were getting sick.


In some countries riots had broken out and UN missions were under siege as people tried to get hold of scarce medicines; national police forces were decimated.


Vulnerable populations were crying for international assistance.


The group, moderated by the UN’s avian flu point man David Nabarro, was faced with some difficult home truths. When a real global crisis hits, what truly are the UN’s essential functions and who needs to carry them out?


Which officials absolutely had to come to UN headquarters, and possibly stay there for six to eight weeks away from their families? What was the UN capable of delivering in the least developed countries, what needed to be stockpiled and how would finances flow?


Some of the answers, although preliminary, were revealing. Participants felt most inter-governmental meetings could and would have to be stopped, but the Security Council – through teleconferencing, possibly – would need to continue.


Many staff would probably have to stay at home for several weeks; the UN’s iconic headquarters might only be able to sustain a couple of hundred officials for a prolonged period, and that would have to include security, communications and medical services.


While the UN would probably need to maintain a symbolic high-level presence at HQ, and carry out some co-ordination activities for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, many decisions could be devolved to country offices.


Mark Malloch Brown, the UN’s incoming deputy secretary-general, has called for answers over the coming weeks, in the kind of exercise flu experts are suggesting all international organisations and corporations should be considering.


Not all scenarios are so dramatic. Bird flu may not evolve to human transmission at all, or may spread slowly, affecting different countries at different times.


But the spread could be very rapid, and the UN is making contingency plans for the worst.


Draft UN guidelines, to be released soon, call for a prioritisation of the organisation’s work in the event of a pandemic, the definition of critical staff, and a review of its facilities and security.


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