Archive for March 24, 2008

Record Cold Temps Tonight

Brrrrrrrrrr!  A cold wind has been blowing all day, and a freeze warning is out for the inland areas of Florida.

Durn!  I got all carried away, SURE that spring was here, and planted things that were only supposed to be planted when all danger of frost was past.

 RIP, tender young plants.

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Don’t Just Blame the Chickens for the Flu

WASHINGTON (AP) — Intensive rice farming and large duck populations — not the number of chickens raised — may be the best predictors of where bird flu might develop in Southeast Asia, according to researchers reviewing outbreaks in Vietnam and Thailand.

About 140 million birds in Southeast Asia have been killed in recent years to prevent the H5N1 virus from spreading. Researchers are trying to understand what factors have contributed to continued outbreaks despite significant control efforts.

By isolating those factors, policymakers can better target efforts to stem or prevent future outbreaks. For example, they could limit the movement of ducks into the rice paddies at certain times of the year, which would reduce the prospects of the virus being exchanged between domestic ducks and wild birds.

Researchers reviewed three outbreaks in early 2004 through late 2005. They looked at five variables: duck abundance, human population, chicken numbers, elevation and rice cropping intensity.

The researchers concluded that monitoring duck populations for H5N1 and tracking rice paddies by satellite were the best ways to predict where outbreaks were most likely to occur. They said that chickens are no longer a “highly significant predictor” of the presence of the H5N1 virus for Vietnam and Thailand.

“Essentially, (the virus) is so pathogenic in chickens that it kills them before they can spread it,” said Marius Gilbert of the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.

The outbreaks were most concentrated in regions where rice is cultivated two or three times a year.

“Rice paddy fields are an important habitat of free-ranging ducks, but also for wild waterfowl exploiting the same food resource in the wintering season,” the researchers said. “Thus, they may form a critical risk factor in … virus introduction, persistence and spread.”

The researchers described the predictive power of their models as “moderate.” They also said that their work appeared to warrant development of maps in other Southeast Asian countries identifying those areas most susceptible to future bird flu outbreaks.

Since 2003, bird flu has killed at least 236 people. Although it has been hard for people to catch, experts worry the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily among humans, sparking a pandemic. So far, most human cases have been linked to contact with infected birds.

Source: Associated Press

In a different story but covering similar material see the following story from Bloomberg:

March 24 (Bloomberg) — Scientists in the Netherlands tracking the spread of bird flu in wild ducks say mallards may be the best long-distance carrier of the deadly H5N1 virus.

Researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam experimentally infected six wild-duck species with H5N1 to determine which were capable of excreting the virus without succumbing to the disease. Pochards and tufted ducks shed the most virus, though tend to become ill or die earlier, they said.

“Of the six wild duck species studied, the mallard is the prime candidate for being a long distance vector,” the researchers wrote in a study published in the April edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases. “It was the only species to show abundant virus excretion without clinical or pathologic evidence of debilitating disease.”

The study suggests mallards should be given priority in any surveillance for the H5N1 virus in wild ducks, the authors wrote. The H5N1 strain has spread to more than 60 countries since 2003 through trade in poultry and the movement of wild birds. It has infected people in 14 countries and world health officials say it may spark a pandemic if it becomes capable of spreading among humans through coughing and sneezing.

While the transport of infected poultry, contaminated equipment and people associated with the poultry industry has helped spread H5N1 among poultry flocks, wild birds are “suspected of playing a major role as long-distance” carriers of the virus, the researchers said.

Besides ducks, other water bird species, such as geese, swans and gulls also play a role in the epidemiology of avian flu, they said. There about 9 million mallards in Western Europe, making it the most abundant species in the family that includes ducks and duck-like waterfowl, according to the study.

Disease Link

“Part of the population migrates long distances northeast to southwest between breeding and wintering areas,” wrote the researchers, led by Juthatip Keawcharoen. “It is found on nearly every type of wetland and is very tolerant of human presence, thus forming a potential link between wild waterfowl, domestic animals and humans.”

Pochards and tufted ducks, along with mute swans, are more likely to act as sentinels for H5N1 in wild bird populations, the study found. Some of the pochards and tufted ducks studied developed neurologic disease that caused them to compulsively swim around in circles, the researchers said.

The virus’s ability to invade multiple tissues, including the brain, suggests tests on live birds should include swabs of the throat as well as the end of the digestive tract or cloaca, they said. Tests on wild duck carcasses should also probe internal organs such as brain, pancreas, liver, kidney and spleen, the authors found.

This is not really new information; that some ducks can carry the disease with little sign of illness has been known for several years now.  However, most (though not all) of the people that have been infected have had contact with sick or dying chickens.  Some of those that contracted the disease and subsequently died have had no known contact with poultry of any kind.

Keeping domestic ducks separated from wild ducks is quite a chore; I have gone outside to find my ducks happily swimming with migratory Canadian geese, and herons and other wading birds are frequent visitors as well.

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Indonesia Limits Sharing of Bird Flu Samples

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia will not fully share bird flu virus samples with the World Health Organization until a new global mechanism is in place, a senior official said on Monday.

Indonesia is the nation worst hit by H5N1 avian influenza, with 129 human cases, of whom 105 have died.

Indonesia sent bird flu virus samples last month to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a WHO-collaborating laboratory, after a nearly 6-month hiatus when it won assurance that it would get access to affordable vaccines.

But Bayu Krisnamurthi, head of a national commission dealing with bird flu, said Indonesia would only send virus samples on a case-by-case basis until a new virus sharing mechanism currently being drawn up by the WHO took effect.

“The health ministry decides whether or not to send samples,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of a meeting to step up the campaign against bird flu in the capital Jakarta and surrounding areas.

He declined to say under what circumstances the ministry would decide to send samples to a WHO collaborating laboratory.

Indonesia drew international concern when it defied protocol and refused to share its virus samples last year, saying it wanted guarantees from richer nations and drugmakers that poor countries would get access to affordable vaccines derived from their samples.

Talks hosted by the WHO last year in Geneva failed to reach an agreement on a new virus-sharing system, and the impasse only seemed to ease when Indonesia handed over samples last month.

The WHO says it has begun to disclose how and where samples it receives are used in response to poor countries’ demands for more transparency.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said last week Indonesian efforts have done little to control bird flu and the nation needed more help in controlling the virus.

Surveillance and response teams are working in 193 out of 448 districts in Indonesia, yet birds in 31 out of 33 provinces are affected, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said.

Krisnamurthi said bird flu had cost Indonesia 4.1 trillion rupiah ($446.6 million) since cases in poultry were discovered in 2004, excluding the impact of job losses and reduced protein consumption among the population.

But he said there had not been evidence that the virus had mutated into a form that could jump easily between people.

The chief of Jakarta’s animal husbandry department, Edy Setiarto, told the same news conference that he expected the city to be free of live poultry by 2010.

He said the current campaign to rid the capital of backyard poultry had faced problems because some residents had resisted.

Source:  Reuters

Perhaps they’re just a bunch of concerned environmentalists in Indonesia that wish to drastically reduce the world’s population starting with their own.

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STMicro Develops Chip to Detect Influenza Viruses

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Europe’s top semiconductor maker, STMicroelectronics, said it has developed a portable chip to detect influenza viruses including bird flu in humans.

The device, which functions as a mini laboratory on a chip, can screen and identify multiple classes of pathogens and genes in a single diagnostic test within two hours, unlike other tests available on the market that can detect only one strain at a time and require days or weeks to obtain results.

The chip can differentiate human strains of the Influenza A and B viruses, drug-resistant strains and mutated variants, including the Avian Flu or H5N1 strain.

There have been 236 human deaths globally from the H5N1 strain, according to the World Health Organisation, though it remains mainly a bird virus.

“ST sees new high growth opportunities in the healthcare market, especially in areas like patient care,” said Francois Guibert, STMicro’s Asia Pacific chief executive, at a briefing in Singapore on Monday marking the commercial launch.

The VereFlu Chip was developed by the Franco-Italian chipmaker together with Singapore’s privately held Veredus Laboratories after more than a year of research. The application underwent extensive evaluation trials at Singapore’s National University Hospital last year.

It allows users to process and analyze patient samples — comprising human blood, serum or respiratory swabs — on a single disposable thumbnail-sized microchip.

Guibert said revenue contributions from its biomedical chip business would remain “negligible” for at least another three to five years.

Veredus Chief Executive Rosemary Tan said the company had obtained “very promising” sales orders from hospitals and non-hospital customers, but declined to provide details.

Source:  Reuters

Hmmmmm.  They could screen people at airports.  Come to think of it, the last time I had to make an emergency room visit, I waited a lot longer than that. 

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