Mass birdflu deaths in China

China’s national bird flu laboratory confirmed that an epidemic on a farm
near the Inner Mongolian capital of Hohhot was the H5N1 strain which is
potentially lethal to humans, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The most recent confirmed case before this one was near the Tibetan capital
of Lhasa in August.

EU urges global flu effort

European leaders say an “international coordinated response” is needed to combat a possible human pandemic, as avian influenza was detected in a third European country.

European Union foreign ministers held emergency talks in Luxembourg as Greece became the latest country to test poultry for the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, already detected in Turkey and Romania.

The ministers underlined the need for global coordination on the pandemic threat from H5N1, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia.

Death in Thailand
A man in Thailand has died with severe pneumonia after eating a neighbour’s dead chickens, after repeatedly testing negative for bird flu.

Doctors will conduct an autopsy and lab tests on the 48-year-old’s tissue to determine the cause of death.

“He died from pneumonia, but there are more than one hundred kinds of viruses that cause pneumonia. We do not know yet what virus caused his death, but we know one thing for sure – it was not bird flu,” said Dr Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general of the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Communicable Disease Control.

The man from the Phanom Thuan district of Kanchanaburi province was hospitalised on Sunday shortly after cooking and eating his neighbour’s dead chickens.

Officials said the birds had died of abnormal causes but that the chickens were not tested for bird flu.

Scientists fear H5N1 may mutate, acquiring genes from the human flu virus that would make it highly infectious and deadly.

“Different threats”

“Avian and pandemic influenza are global threats (which need) an international coordinated response,” the ministers said.

But EU health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou underlined that bird flu and human flu posed different threats.

“The fact that we have avian flu in Europe now does not affect the threat of a human pandemic … it could come from this virus, it could come from a mutation of any other influenza virus,” he told reporters.

Scientists confirmed at the weekend that H5N1, carried west by migratory birds, had been detected on the European continent in Romania’s Danube Delta region, after being detected two days earlier in northwest Turkey.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country holds the EU presidency, said the bloc must reassure the public over fears that the lethal virus might spread.

The EU must ensure “above all that there are the most adequate contingency plans across Europe to deal with any transfer of the avian virus to human beings,” he said.

Greece latest outbreak

Bird flu was found in a dead turkey on the Aegean island of Oinousses in Greece on Tuesday, and tests results due this week will reveal if it’s the H5N1 strain.

The Romanian agriculture ministry said H5 was also found in a swan near the Danube Delta, three days after the first outbreak was confirmed.

In Turkey more than 9,000 birds have been slaughtered around the site of an H5N1 outbreak in the northwest village of Kiziksa.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said a three-week quarantine imposed on October 8 around the village had successfully contained the virus.

In a further worrying sign, Macedonian authorities said Tuesday that a bird suspected to have died in Macedonia of avian flu will be flown to Britain for tests.

Poultry bans

Greece has halted poultry shipments from the region, while neighbouring Bulgaria has banned poultry and egg imports from Greece, except for products that had undergone thermal treatment.

Bulgaria also banned the transit through its territory of live poultry that has travelled through Greece, Turkey and Romania.

British customs authorities are giving extra attention to flights from Turkey and Romania, using sniffer dogs to seek out birds, eggs and feathers in luggage.

Drug production

EU states have been urged to stockpile anti-viral drugs, and on Tuesday Swiss drug company Roche said it was boosting output of Tamiflu, seen as a first line of defence against a pandemic.

Roche, which has an exclusive licence to make Tamiflu, has agreed to discuss ways of increasing licensed production with any government or company.

GlaxoSmithKline says it will reopen a factory in Australia to boost supplies of the anti-viral drug Relenza, an alternative to Tamiflu.

Hungary, meanwhile, said it would offer to vaccinate all its citizens for free against bird flu and may market its own vaccines abroad, if human tests currently under way prove successful.

Elsewhere the Spanish government said it was ordering six to 10 million anti-viral doses.

Portugal said it only had enough anti-viral drugs to treat 0.5 percent its population but had ordered 2.5 million doses of anti-flu drugs.

South America alert

Latin American countries have agreed to join forces to fight the spread of bird flu, a week after it was detected in
Colombia.

Health ministers from Chile and the Andean Community — Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela — were to meet Friday in Lima to discuss a regional offensive.

Paraguay has taken preventive measures at its airports and customs checkpoints after Colombia announced on October 10 that a strain of avian influenza of “low pathogenicity” had been found on a chicken farm.

Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Panama have banned imports of Colombian poultry.

Separately health officials from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay will meet on Thursday to discuss ways to stem the spread of bird flu found in Brazil.

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