A recent spate of new poultry outbreaks in Asia are signs the bird flu virus could make a resurgence this winter, health experts warn.
While most Asian countries are better prepared than they were a year ago to prevent or contain the spread of avian influenza, epidemiologists say there is no room for complacency about the virus that remains widespread in the region.
Experts warn that the risk will increase when China, Vietnam and other countries celebrate the Lunar New Year in the middle of next month, when the movement of both poultry and people traditionally increases sharply. Migratory birds also pose a risk.
Infections in birds and people are increasing, particularly in Asia, where the virus was first identified a decade ago. Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Nigeria have reported diseased birds in the past month, while China and Egypt also found new human cases.
Almost all human H5N1 cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds, such as children playing with them or adults butchering them or plucking feathers.
Bird flu has killed 161 people worldwide since late 2003. Scientists fear it could mutate and trigger a deadly, global pandemic. — AFP
Bird flu has spread to a sixth province in southern Vietnam, officials said yesterday, after the virus killed over 800 ducks on a farm in Tra Vinh province in the Mekong Delta. Last month (December), after a one-year hiatus, bird flu struck scores of poultry farms in the southern provinces.
Japan has confirmed a fresh bird flu outbreak but officials said it was not clear if it involved the H5N1 strain.
The confirmation came after about 2,400 chickens died at a farm in the south of the country. Officials will cull the remaining 9,600 chickens at the affected farm.
Japan confirmed an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in January 2004.
China last week reported its first human case of bird flu in six months, but the farmer who fell ill made a full recovery.
A dead wild bird found in Hong Kong has tested positive for a milder strain of the bird flu virus. Further tests are now being carried out on the carcass of the Crested Hoshawk.
Another dead wild bird, a scaly breasted munia, was found in Causeway Bay on Dec 31 and tested positive for the H5N1 strain last week.
Hong Kong was the scene of the world's first reported major bird flu outbreak among humans in 1997, when six people died of a then-unknown mutation of the avian flu virus.
Bird flu has killed two young women in Indonesia, taking fatalities in the past week to four in the country worst-hit by the disease. The women bought live chickens – which later died suddenly – from a market, and were admitted a few days later to hospital, where they died of acute pneumonia.
Also infected was an 18-year-old man in Indonesia whose mother, 37, died of the disease last week, creating a new cluster of infections that doctors are monitoring for signs the virus is becoming more adept at infecting humans.
Another four suspected cases are being treated in a hospital in West Java province.
Indonesia attracted international attention in May last year when seven members of a family from the island of Sumatra contracted the H5N1 virus, six of them fatally.
The cases represented the largest reported cluster of infections and the first laboratory-proven instance of human-to-human transmission.
- Influenza Pandemic
- WHO update of confirmed human cases as at 15 January 2007
- Ten things you need to know about pandemic influenza
- WHO's Avian Influenza Outbreak
- CDC's Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
- WHO's SARS Outbreak
- CDC's Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Site