Archive for January, 2008

Bird Flu Continues March 4 Years Later

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Fears of a global bird flu pandemic that once dominated headlines have largely vanished in the West, but four years after the virus began ravaging Asian poultry, it continues to quietly spread.

Most global health officials continue to warn that the virus could morph into a disease as threatening to people as it is to chickens. Although a few are now calling the risk “overestimated,” recent developments raise new concerns:

_This week marked the 100th death in Indonesia since the virus was first reported in humans there in 2005.

_India is battling its worst-ever poultry outbreak. No human cases have been reported, but experts are scrambling to keep the disease from reaching crowded Calcutta and its 14 million people.

_Pakistan and Myanmar both reported their first human infections in December. That brings to 14 the number of countries where the virus has jumped from poultry to people.

The H5N1 bird flu virus still has killed relatively few people since it began destroying Asian chickens and ducks in late 2003. More than 220 people have died, nearly all from close contact with infected birds. About 60 percent who catch the virus die.

The most recent death in Vietnam — one of the countries most successful at quashing the virus — offers a typical illustration of how people get infected. A man died after butchering and cooking geese and chickens that had died at his backyard farm. Tests showed they had the H5N1 virus. The victim was Vietnam’s 48th since 2003.

Still, the virus’ inability to more easily infect and spread among people has led some experts to distance themselves from the idea it could someday gain the power to kill millions like the world’s worst flu pandemic nearly 100 years ago.

A few weeks ago, Bernard Vallat, director general of the Paris-based animal health organization, known as OIE, said “the risk was overestimated” and fear of an imminent pandemic was “just nonscientific supposition.”

Officials with the World Health Organization maintain that the threat has not lessened, but acknowledge increasing bird flu fatigue.

“It’s not an issue which is always going to remain on the front pages of newspapers,” said Gregory Hartl, WHO spokesman in Geneva. “But that doesn’t change the public health assessment of the situation.”

Bird flu has already caused a pandemic in poultry. Hundreds of millions of birds in more than 60 countries — from Vietnam and Egypt to Britain and Nigeria — have died or been slaughtered to halt its spread.

“A normal pattern in many countries has been that where there are widespread poultry outbreaks, you do get human cases,” Hartl said. “The virus is out there and is still a threat.”

Indonesia remains a constant concern. Health experts are unsure why it continues to post cases year-round when most other nations typically only experience sporadic bumps.

It may be because people wait too long to seek treatment. Or it could be connected to the type of virus circulating there, which differs genetically from H5N1 elsewhere. Indonesia’s sheer volume of poultry combined with the amount of disease present in flocks may also be playing a major role.

The ongoing poultry outbreaks in India illustrate how hard it is to control. Nearly 2.5 million birds have been slaughtered since mid-January, and farmers angry about low compensation for their chickens have been hiding or smuggling birds out of the area, said Anisur Rahaman, animal husbandry minister in West Bengal state.

Initially, there were reports of dead birds being tossed in ponds or buried in shallow pits. Officials were forced to conduct nighttime raids to round up backyard poultry under the cover of darkness, he added.

A number of other countries, including Thailand and Bangladesh, have also recently detected poultry outbreaks during the winter months when the virus typically flares.

Experts believe the spread is largely related to the trade of birds and their products, including cross-border smuggling. Wild birds are believed to play a role, but a recent WHO review published in the New England Journal of Medicine said the risk of the H5N1 virus reaching North America through migrating birds remains low.

Next week a recurring annual challenge faces health officials: the Lunar New Year, a festival that rivals Christmas in the West. Throngs of Asians will be traveling, carrying their chickens and ducks with them.

Associated Press writer Manik Banerjee in Calcutta, India, contributed to this report.

Source:  The Associated Press.

I’m not sure if the worst winter weather in @ 50 years in China that has halted much mass transit is good or bad in this situation.  Inclement weather and crowded people are a good combination to spread illness.

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Experimental Infection and Natural Contact Exposure of Dogs with Avian Influenza Virus (H5N1)

Abstract
Experiments that exposed influenza virus (H5N1)–infected cats to susceptible dogs did not result in intraspecies or interspecies transmission. Infected dogs showed increased body temperatures, viral RNA in pharyngeal swabs, and seroconversion but not fatal disease.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus (H5N1) has spread across Asia, Europe, and Africa. Transmission of the virus to felids has been repeatedly reported (1–4). Investigations also indicate virus transmission to dogs. A fatal infection was documented in Thailand (5,6). In central Thailand, seroprevalence of ≈25% among 629 village dogs was reported (7). The virus was also detected in 2 dogs on Bali (8). The often close contact between dogs and humans raises questions about the zoonotic potential and the role of dogs in transmission and adaptation of influenza virus (H5N1) to mammals.

The Study

Experiments were performed on 2 groups of animals housed in different rooms in the high-containment animal facility (Biosafety Level 3+) at the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut using the highly pathogenic influenza virus (H5N1) strain A/cat/Germany/R606/2006 (2,9). All experiments were approved by the ethics committee. The first group comprised 5 dogs and 3 cats; 3 cats and 3 dogs were in the second group. The dogs (beagles, 10–12 weeks of age) were obtained from Harlan Laboratories (Borchen, Germany). The cats (8–10 months of age) were obtained from Charles River Laboratories (Dublin, Ireland). All animals were seronegative to influenza by ELISA (Pourquier Blocking AI type A (Rhone Mtrieux, France) and negative to influenza H5 antigen in hemagglutination-inhibition assays (HI).

In the first group of animals, 4 dogs were inoculated oculo-nasopharyngeally with 106 50% egg infectious dose (EID50). From day 1 postinfection (p.i.) onwards, 1 uninfected dog and 3 uninfected cats were housed in the same containment room. The cats had the possibility of withdrawing and hiding, but they could also have direct contact with the dogs through 1 part of the cage fence. During the study the cats frequently had direct nose-to-nose contact with the dogs. For a realistic contact exposure setting, the cats were fed by using the dogs’ food and water bowls without prior cleaning. In the second group, 3 cats were inoculated oculo-nasopharyngeally with 106 EID50. Three uninfected dogs were housed in the same containment room. Direct contact between the animals was similarly enabled as for group 1, and contact again occurred frequently. Two cats and 2 dogs housed in a separate room served as negative controls. Animals were monitored by physical examination and for viral excretion for 21 days by using pharyngeal and rectal swabs.

Conjunctivitis and elevated body temperatures (39.2°C to 39.7°C) developed within 2 days p.i. in all inoculated dogs (group 1). On day 4 p.i., the conjunctivitis had resolved and only 2 dogs had body temperatures >39°C. By day 6 p.i., body temperatures of all animals had declined to <39°C. No additional clinical signs were observed.

Viral RNA was detected in pharyngeal and rectal swabs by real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR (RT-PCR), according to the method of Spackman et al. (10). Infectious virus was detected by titration of swab fluid in MDCK cells. Among the pharyngeal and rectal swabs taken at days 0, 2, 4, 6, and 18 p.i., only the pharyngeal swabs taken on day 2 p.i. from 3 of the inoculated dogs were positive by RT-PCR. No infectious virus was isolated. Plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) samples taken on day 4 p.i. were negative for viral RNA.

One negative control dog and 2 inoculated dogs were euthanized on day 10 p.i. Sera derived from these animals were negative in the ELISA and HI tests. The serum of 1 dog euthanized on day 21 p.i., however, was positive in ELISA and in HI testing with a titer of 16. Pharyngeal swabs from this dog were also positive by RT-PCR (Table). At necropsy, no gross lesions were present that could be attributed to the influenza infection. Histopathologic examination of the liver showed a scant lymphocytic periportal infiltration in dog no. 3. Influenza virus nucleoprotein could not be detected by immunohistochemical tests in trachea, lungs, liver, kidney, adrenals, thyroid, spleen, lymph nodes, or thymus. Antibodies did not develop in the second dog, euthanized on day 21 p.i. This animal also never tested positive for viral RNA in swab samples by RT-PCR.

Sera of the inoculated dogs were investigated biochemically for all enzymes that could be analyzed with a FUJI DRI-CHEM 3500 i (Sysmex, Leipzig, Germany). Elevated liver enzymes have been reported in cats that were naturally infected with influenza virus (H5N1) (2). Two dogs showed increased aspartate aminotransferase (AST) values up to 110 U/L (reference values 33–52 U/L) on day 4 p.i. These dogs also showed elevated body temperature on days 2 and 4 p.i., and viral RNA was detected in pharyngeal swabs on day 2 p.i. Dog no. 2 (Table) also showed elevated creatine phosphokinase (CPK) values up to 441 U/L (reference values 54–361 U/L) on day 4 p.i. The cause of the elevated AST and CPK levels noted on day 4 p.i. could have been nonspecific muscle injury. This dog was euthanized on day 10; no muscle injury was observed at necropsy.

The uninoculated dog housed with the infected dogs, as well as the 3 uninfected contact cats in group 1, never showed clinical symptoms. None of the pharyngeal and rectal swab samples, PBMC, or sera derived from these contact animals was positive by RT-PCR. No specific antibodies were detected. Clearly, the virus was not transmitted to the contact dog and cats.

In the second group of animals, severe symptoms—including high body temperatures (>40°C), decreased activity, conjunctivitis, and labored breathing within 2 days p.i. similar to recent reports about influenza virus (H5N1) infections of cats (11,12)—developed in all infected cats. The cats excreted virus through the respiratory and digestive tract. Viral titers quantified in the pharyngeal swabs reached 50% tissue culture infectious dose 105 between days 2 and 4 p.i. Two animals were euthanized because of their symptoms within 5 days p.i. The third infected cat recovered and had HI titers of 64 within 2 weeks p.i. No clinical symptoms developed in the 3 contact dogs, and pharyngeal swabs, PBMC, and sera were negative by RT-PCR. Specific antibodies did not develop in the dogs (Table).

Conclusions

Dogs are susceptible to HPAI virus (H5N1) infection. In our study, they reacted with a transient rise in body temperature and in some instances with specific antibodies. Viral RNA was detected in pharyngeal swabs. Infectious virus could not be reisolated, and transmission of virus to a contact dog and cats did not occur. Contact exposure experiments of influenza virus (H5N1)–infected cats with uninfected dogs did not result in interspecies transmission. The different outcome of infection with the same dose of influenza virus (H5N1) suggests that cats are more susceptible than dogs to disease. However, the experiments were performed with healthy animals; concurrent infections, impaired immune functions, and changing viral characteristics might lead to aggravated infections. Also, since some dog breeds are genetically predisposed for certain viral and bacterial diseases, other breeds might be more susceptible to influenza virus (H5N1) infection (e.g., equine influenza virus [H3N8] caused disease predominantly in small groups of dogs of particular breeds, including greyhounds [13]). Therefore, dogs may have a role in adaptation of HPAI virus (H5N1) to mammals and its subsequent transmission to humans.

Source:  Emerging Infectious Diseases

What does it all mean?  Although it appears that cats are more susceptible to infection with H5N1 (which has also been observed in the field), the study is really too limited to be certain about this.  The cats do secrete the virus which is something to consider if you are in an area with an H5N1 outbreak and the cat becomes ill.

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Indonesia Reports 101st Bird Flu Death

Jakarta – A 32-year-old Indonesian man has died of bird flu, the health ministry said on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 101 in the nation worst hit by the deadly virus.

The man, who died on Tuesday, was from the Jakarta satellite district of Tangerang, the ministry’s bird flu information centre said in a statement.

He was the seventh confirmed death from bird flu this year.

The victim was said to have first shown symptoms similar to bird flu on January 17, but he was only taken to a village clinic on January 21 before being referred to a hospital in Tangerang on January 24.

The man was then moved to a bird flu referral hospital in Jakarta on January 26, suffering from fever, breathing difficulties, low blood cell count and pneumonia, the health ministry’s bird flu centre has said.

The centre said it was not known whether the victim had contact with infected birds but that several of his neighbours kept pigeons.

Separately, a woman from East Jakarta was in critical condition after being diagnosed earlier this week as infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The 31-year old woman, was “in critical condition, suffering from serious pneumonia”, Mukhtar Ikhsan, who heads the bird flu team of doctors at the Persahabatan hospital here, told AFP.

She was one of 23 people in Indonesia who have been confirmed as having been infected with the bird flu virus but are still alive.

The woman was taken to the Jakarta hospital on Saturday with a fever, cough and headache. She fell ill on January 18 but only sought treatment at a local hospital on January 22 and was later referred to the Persahabatan hospital, one of the two bird flu referral hospitals in Jakarta.

The bird flu information centre has said the patient lived in a neighbourhood with backyard farms and a wet market selling poultry.

Humans are typically infected with bird flu by coming into direct contact with infected poultry, but experts fear the H5N1 virus may mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, sparking a deadly global pandemic.

The concern stems from past influenza pandemics. A pandemic in 1918, just after the end of World War I, killed 20 million people worldwide.

The virus is now endemic in birds across nearly all of Indonesia’s 33 provinces.

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Chavez Rides on a Tide of Venezuelan Oil, but Will it Ebb Soon?

The economic powerhouse that fuels the grand ambitions of President Hugo Chávez at home and abroad is Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., the state oil company.With oil prices at all-time highs, PDVSA’s sales hit $101 billion in 2006 — making it the biggest company in Latin America — and Venezuela’s economy grew by nearly 20 percent over the past two years.

The oil gusher has unleashed a consumption binge perhaps without parallel in the country’s history. It has allowed Chávez to report that he has slashed the poverty rate by 25 percent and to pledge about $8 billion in foreign aid within the past year alone to export his vision of ”21st century socialism” to other Latin American countries.

His petro-revolution has made him popular among the poor in Venezuela and intensely disliked by others — and boosted his standing as the leader of the Latin American left from Bolivia to Nicaragua.

But PDVSA’s good fortune belies profound problems within the company that could sink Chávez’s goal to stay in power indefinitely and use his petro diplomacy to forge an ”anti-imperialist” bloc of nations as a counter to U.S. influence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Miami Herald interviews with dozens of Venezuelan and foreign oil experts, and reviews of scores of records, turned up a problematic picture:

Since Chávez took power in 1999, oil production in Venezuela has declined by 28 percent, the company’s debt has soared, corruption has flourished, foreign oil partners have pulled out, PDVSA’s payroll has skyrocketed, and the company has taken to hiring employees for their fealty to Chávez, not their expertise.

FOUNTAIN OF MONEY

PDVSA will continue to supply mountains of money to Chávez as long as oil prices remain high, said David Mares, a professor at the University of California at San Diego who co-authored an in-depth analysis of PDVSA last March.

”But PDVSA is not generating more money through better performance,” Mares told The Miami Herald. “PDVSA is generating this money in spite of its deteriorating performance. The threat to PDVSA will be when prices go down, and I don’t mean collapse. When the oil market weakens, PDVSA won’t be able to increase output to keep up income.”

What happens to PDVSA has enormous ramifications, from Caracas to South Florida and throughout the region:

• In 2006, the company generated at least 80 percent of Venezuela’s export revenue, 50 percent of the government’s estimated $52 billion budget, and one-third of the country’s gross domestic product.

• PDVSA is the fourth-biggest supplier of oil to the United States, with a 10 percent market share, and controls CITGO, which owns several refineries and supplies about 8,000 franchised gas stations in the United States.

• Cuba gets two-thirds of its daily petroleum needs from PDVSA — largely free of charge, according to most experts.

• The last time oil prices sagged, in the 1990s, the ensuing political and economic turmoil in Venezuela sent billions of dollars and thousands of people fleeing to South Florida.

Three times in the past 25 years, Venezuela has boomed and then busted along with oil prices.

Many foreign analysts believe that PDVSA was better managed before Chávez became president in 1999.

”PDVSA is becoming highly inefficient,” said Roger Tissot, who tracks the company for PFC Energy, a Washington-based consulting firm.

Read the rest at the Miami Herald.

At the peak of every oil boom, everybody believes that the high prices and good times will last forever instead of the cyclical roller coaster that oil has always been on.  Chavez is hardly the first to make that error.  Compounding his error, however, he fired the skilled managers and oil workers that could keep production high, and instead created crony jobs where loyalty to Chavez instead of knowledge of the oil business was most important.  Seizing the foreign investments is probably what is going to hurt him the worst, especially since reinvestment in the oil fields to keep them going is apparently kept to a minimum in order to maximize the cash flow.  While the oil prices are high, the incredible mismanagement and falling production is not noticeable but once prices fall, his whole house of cards is going to fall apart and once again, Florida will be inundated with ever more refugees seeking a stable place.

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New House Guests

It was a cold morning and when I fed, I could hear weak peeping noises coming from a duck’s nest. The duck was nowhere to be found (perhaps motherhood didn’t live up to her expectations), and some little duckling bodies were lying huddled over the eggs in the cold. One of the eggs was peeping weakly. It, too, felt cold. I picked it up, and could hear more weak peeping from the nest. Another egg with a tiny hole chipped in it. I put them both in my pocket, and checked the other cold eggs. A tiny little duck bill protruded from one, not moving.

I brought the peeping eggs inside and tried warming them with a hair dryer which was not exactly temperature controlled. I didn’t want to take the chance of cooking them in the shell, so I peeled the shell and dried them. I briefly abandoned them to locate and unpack a Hova-Bator incubator that had been bought for the daughter’s poultry @ 10 years previously, but the box had never been opened. I brought it in from where it had been stored and assembled it, periodically warming the little ducklings with a hair dryer.

The incubator temperature controls works great after all that time!  Now the ducklings are in the incubator with the controls set @ 100 degrees. I’ll probably leave them in there the rest of the day before moving them to a box with a heat lamp so they can get their first meal.

Will they survive after being chilled nearly to death?  I don’t know, but they seem to be gaining strength.

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Spring is coming! It’s nearly time to order chicks!

“SwampWoman”, you may say, “what in the world is wrong with you?” “You’ve been warning us about the dangers of H5N1 for months now, and you put in a link to order newly hatched chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery?

Yep. I’m concerned about H5N1 but not yet concerned enough to get rid of my poultry. I like to hear the roosters crowing, chickens quietly clucking in content, the hens calling to their chicks as they are on a bug search-and-destroy mission. What I do NOT like is when they are on a flower garden search-and-destroy mission and they eat my newly-rooted hydrangea cuttings or the new petunias. (I need to get them under better control.) Until such time as I get them under better control, I’d better not order any new ones!

Years ago, daughter showed some fancy bantams at the fair. Afterwards, they were turned in with my flock of Araucanas and cross-bred like crazy. Now I’ve got various-sized vigorous chickens running around that are self-supporting, hide their nests so I don’t get any eggs, and raise their young with no help from me (unless I find some peeps that ducks accidentally hatched or whose momma got snatched by a fox or hawk). I can’t just let them be eaten by possums, poor babies! These chickens may have a feathery crest, feathered legs, and some still have the feathered ears and lay the colored eggs of the Araucanas. The roosters will fight each other to the death but are timid around small humans, always a plus.

I actually have 3 separate flocks in 3 different areas–there are the horse barn chickens whose territory is around the stables and pasture. They roost in the stable, and tend to be plain-legged bantams and Araucana crosses. The sheep barn roosting chickens are some descendants, apparently, of the old Australorp rooster (also a show chicken). Those chickens are black. Then I have some that like to roost in the trees around the house and crow loudly at 3 a.m. Those are the Cochin, Polish, and Buff Orpington descendants. These now just have some minor feathering of the legs and a small feathery crest, not the exaggerated feathering of the purebreds. There used to be quite a few white/light-colored chickens in this group, but white chickens are easier to see at night even in the trees by an irate person with a shotgun that has been awakened by said crowing roosters.

Murray McMurray isn’t a source for people that dream of showing champion chickens. It’s a source for folks that, like me, like to have the poultry around and aren’t so concerned about whether the coloring of the feathers and/or conformation is outstanding enough to be of championship quality.

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