Hollywood style H5N1 disaster

In a scene straight out of a Hollywood disaster film, Vietnamese villagers overwhelmed officials trying to cull infected chickens. Needless to say, Hollywood disaster films have a basis in reality.

You can certainly tell there is a broad spectrum of awareness when it comes to dealing with the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus. When incidents like this promise to start a major outbreak, one has to realize just how shaky our line of defense actually is. One incident like this can put all past efforts to waste.

HANOI, VIETNAM: A melee broke out in northern Vietnam when more than 100 villagers prevented authorities from destroying chickens to stop the spread of bird flu, officials said Sunday (8 Feb) as the country announced its second H5N1 case.

About 100 villagers in Thuong Tin district just outside Hanoi overwhelmed police and health authorities Thursday (5 Feb) and stopped them from destroying about 1,500 chickens smuggled in from China, said official Vu Van Dung.

As about 30 police and health officials removed the poultry from a truck to burn in a pit, the villagers _ desperate for the income the birds could provide _ grabbed the chickens and ran off.

“I told the villagers that the chickens had been sprayed with chemicals and were not edible, but they didn’t listen,” Dung said. “They grabbed chickens from us, and we were overwhelmed.”

Meanwhile, in northern Quang Ninh province, tests results confirmed Friday (6 Feb) that a 23-year-old woman was infected with the H5N1 virus.

She was on a respirator since being hospitalized five days ago, hospital deputy director Nguyen Quoc Hung said. The woman became ill after slaughtering and eating chickens her family was raising.

Five other family members who had also eaten the chicken showed no symptoms.

In early Jan, an 8-year-old girl from northern Thanh Hoa province tested positive for bird flu, Vietnam’s first reported human case in more than 10 months.

Bird flu has killed 52 people in Vietnam, including five last year, since it began raging through Asian poultry stocks in late 2003.

The H5N1 strain has killed at least 254 people worldwide since 2003, most through contact with sick birds. Scientists are monitoring the virus because of its potential to mutate into a new human influenza virus, which could infect millions. (AP)

Then it gets even better when history looks to repeat itself yet again just to save face.

Deadly tide of birds fuels fears of bird flu cover-up
Hong Kong: For more than a week now a deadly tide has been washing out of China into the sea surrounding Hong Kong, bringing with it growing fears that China is in the grip of a covered-up bird-flu outbreak.
With each day that passes, more dead birds, ducks and chickens washed up on the beaches of Hong Kong, suggesting that H5N1-infected birds may have been dumped into the China’s polluted Pearl River and carried by the tide to Hong Kong waters.
China has insisted there are no bird-flu outbreaks in China, despite eight human cases in January alone this year.

But experts fear the tide of death washing out of southern China shows that China is once again covering up another major public health catastrophe.
It happened before in 2003, when Beijing denied the existence of the deadly condition that became known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – or Sars – until it had crossed the border into Hong Kong where it went on to spread worldwide infecting thousands and killing hundreds.
It happened again last year when state newspapers were initially ordered to keep quiet about a scandal which lead to many thousands of young children falling sick and seven dying after drinking baby milk tainted with the chemical melamine.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), China has recorded a total of 38 bird-flu cases since the disease resurfaced in 2003, including 25 deaths. Five people died in China of bird flu in January alone, two more than in the whole of 2008. Three other people were infected.
So far more than 20 dead birds have been found on Hong Kong beaches within the last week. Six of the birds have so far tested positive for the H5N1 virus strain.
However, there are no current outbreaks in Hong Kong nor are there any farms close to the sites where the infected birds were discovered.
Together, these facts are causing concern in Hong Kong which boasts arguably the world’s most stringent bird flu detection and prevention measures, introduced after 1997 when the former British colony witnessed the first modern incident of the virus crossing the species barrier when it infected 18 people of which six died.
Hong Kong Secretary of Health Dr York Chow confirmed that the birds are most likely to have drifted down from the Pearl River in southern China sometime over the last week. He also said that tests on the dead birds detected a strain of H5N1 previously found in southern China and not Hong Kong.
Leading Hong Kong bird-flu expert and chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association, Lo Wing-Lok said all these facts indicated that “something very terrible” could be happening in China.
“In China they are repeatedly denying any outbreak among birds but how come we have these dead birds turning up in Hong Kong?” Lo said.
“I don’t believe the source of these dead birds is Hong Kong. They are from the mainland. Possibly, they were dumped in the river or sea by farmers who have farms close to the Pearl River or sea.”
Lo said the birds was especially worrying in the light of the high number of human cases in China this year. Taken together this could indicate the virus had changed into a form more easily transmitted from birds to humans or that the vaccine used on poultry was suppressing symptoms but not the transmission so outbreaks were going unnoticed.
The WHO’s Western Pacific spokesman Peter Cordingley said their area of concern was that many of the recent human infections in China seemed to be occurring in the absence of any infection among birds.
“Usually we have birds serving as sentinels, telling us there is something going on in the environment. But in China, people are falling sick before any reports of sick birds. That is the wrong way round and is quite worrying,” Cordingley said.
“Quite clearly there seems to be gaps in the surveillance of wild birds and poultry in China. We don’t know what these gaps are and it may not be sloppy surveillance. But from a human health point of view, we are concerned.
“If people are to stay safe and healthy we need to know where the virus is and the evidence is that in China at the moment, people don’t know where it is.”
That uncertainty is especially worrying for Hong Kong which shares its waters and border with China and imports millions of chickens from the mainland every year.
“We often ask where this virus is coming from and we get no answers, Lo said. “Seeing dead birds floating towards Hong Kong shows the virus is not being controlled at its source.
“The only thing we can do is progressively step up our controls.  But controls have their limit and we are approaching that limit. We have to now rely on China to do its part.” – DPA

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