Bird Flu Believed Endemic in Asia, Winter Outbreak Likely
submited by kickingbird at Aug, 20, 2004 16:25 PM from Reuters
A strain of bird flu blamed for 27 deaths in Asia this year has been found in Malaysia and hundreds of birds have been gassed this week and their carcasses burned to contain the outbreak.
The latest deaths from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza were of three people in Vietnam this month.
"This is a great concern. It says to me that the virus is endemic in the region," virologist Dr. Robert Webster of St. Jude Children´s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, told a Beijing symposium.
The outbreak in Malaysia was the country´s first, and while no human cases have been confirmed, the World Health Organization has said there is a risk the virus could jump to humans, with pandemic potential.
A total of 15 outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian flu have been reported since 1950, five of them big, said Dr. Klaus Stohr of the Department of Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response under the WHO Global Influenza Program.
"The one this year is even bigger. What we are seeing is completely unprecedented," Stohr told Reuters on the sidelines of the Beijing symposium.
"The probability of the continuation of the outbreak is relatively high. The virus appears endemic, with a foothold in domesticated bird populations."
In rallying to stem the spread of the disease, many Asian countries could look to China as a model, health experts said.
China has had success in controlling outbreaks of bird flu, mostly in its southern provinces, despite being the world´s most populous country in terms of both humans and poultry.
"They can move in very quickly," said Stohr of the Chinese officials´ response.
China´s combined methods of vaccination, culling and careful surveillance could yield good results elsewhere, he said.
China has vaccinated more than 11 million birds and culled another 8 million to rein in outbreaks that have infected 150,000 birds and killed 120,000 this year, Chen Hualan from the Chinese Academy of Agriculture said in her speech.
Yet even such strict measures may not be enough to rule out future outbreaks completely.
"The key element in control and prevention is controlling birds´ movements," said Stohr.
Trading of fighting cocks may have circumvented control measures in Thailand and Vietnam and led to outbreaks in areas thought to be safe.
Migrating birds pose a potentially greater danger because infected birds could pass the virus to uncontaminated populations of domesticated poultry. "That would be a new paradigm, making it not only endemic in poultry, but circulating, and that would complicate control efforts," Stohr said.
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