Bird flu virus slowly spreading
This is not original reporting. All information has been compiled from the CNN News article "EU pledges $100M to bird flu fight", "Turkish bird flu `may be endemic'", "More Turkey bird flu as fears grow", and "Bird flu: what you need to know". Silver Chips Online posts this news summary to provide readers with a forum for discussion.
As of Jan. 14, 78 people worldwide have died of the bird flu virus. The latest victim is 12 year-old Fatma Ozcan, who died in Agri Province, Turkey on Jan. 7.
After running tests on Ozcan, officials confirmed that an H5 virus subtype was detected in the specimens taken from her body. Ozcan's five year-old brother, Muhammad Ozcan, is seriously ill and has also tested positive for avian flu. The Associate Press has reported that both Fatma and Muhammad had contact with sick birds.
So far, 19 people who have apparently played or touched sick birds have tested positive for H5V1 virus strand in Turkey. Health officials have confirmed that the 19 people who got infected, of which three children died, did not have person-to-person contact.
The three Turkish fatalities are the first known deaths outside of Asia, where 77 people have been killed by bird flu since 2003, said the Associate Press. So far bird flu cases have been reported in China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. To view the total deaths and cases due to bird flu, click here .
Consequently, with roughly half of the victims dead, many European and Asian countries have started thinking of the virus as a possible endemic that could spread around the world if it is not controlled at an early stage.
The Battle Begins
Already Turkey has set up a bird flu crisis center in its capital Ankara, and Germany's Agricultural Minister Horst Seehofer said that Germany will "very likely" require all birds to be kept indoors to prevent bird flu in the country.
Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) senior animal health officer, Juan Lubroth said that "the virus may be spreading despite the control measures already taken." Lubroth also called upon neighboring countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraq, Iran and Syria to be on high alert, to apply surveillance and control measures, and to ensure that the public was fully informed about the avian influenza risk. The FAO added that it has sent a team of experts to support Turkey in their bird flu control efforts.
World Health Organization (WHO) official told Turkey there was "no reason to panic," and the European Regional Director, Marc Danzon, told a news conference in Ankara that the country was taking "appropriate and satisfactory measures" to handle the outbreak. Furthermore, the European Union says it will pledge $100 million towards fighting the spread of avian flu at a conference on the virus next week in Beijing.
"The costs of tackling bird flu are indeed substantial, but I am convinced that it is better to spend now on controlling avian influenza at the source ... than have to spend much more at a catastrophic events of a human pandemic," EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Friday.
The EU announced that the funding will be used to support developing countries in their fight against bird flu and prevent it from spreading. It will also be used to assist countries who need help, particularly in Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East, to strengthen the military and health services and reform some animal husbandry practices.
The EU is also co-hosting the Beijing conference, along with China and the World Bank, Ferrero-Waldner said in Brussels. Eighty countries and 20 organizations are scheduled to attend, as Ferrero-Waldner said: "A global threat needs a global response," and that is exactly what the EU is trying to prevent.
While donating money and isolating sick animals is a key factor in preventing the spread of the bird flu, educating the public about the virus is just as important.
Avian Influenza, what?
Christine McNab, a spokeswoman for the WHO, told CNN that investigators were trying to determine why so many people had been infected so quickly and why most of the cases occur in children. "It might be because children were home for the holidays, maybe playing with birds around the house, and sick birds are easier to catch," she said.
With this, the Turkish government has begun distributing leaflets in affected areas to educate people about the disease; its crisis center in Ankara is receiving calls from people worried about their livestock or themselves.
The big questions that many people want to know are: what exactly is bird flu, how does it spread and what are the symptoms?
Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. This disease was first identified in Italy more than 100 years ago, but now occurs worldwide.
And, while all birds are thought to be susceptible to the avian influenza, some species, such as wild ducks, are more resistant than others. Domestic poultry, however, such as chickens or turkeys, are particularly susceptible.
While avian influenza does not normally infect species other than birds and pigs, in 1997 Hong Kong, humans came down with the bird flu, when the H5N1 strain infected 18 humans, six of whom died.
Genetic studies showed the virus jumped directly from birds to humans, and caused severe illness with high mortality. WHO suspect that those who come into contact with sick birds are the ones who are most likely to get the virus.
If the virus is transmitted to a human, symptoms of fever, sore throat, coughing and in several of the fatal cases, severe respiratory distress secondary to viral pneumonia, will develop.
For now, the only way to treat the virus is through antiviral drugs, some of which can be used for both treatment and prevention. They are clinically effective against influenza A virus strains and will be quite effective in healthy adults and children, but even they have some limitations.
Also, in the case that the virus did turn into a pandemic, at least four months would be needed to produce a new vaccine, in significant quantities, capable of conferring protection against a new virus subtype.
For now, many officials are worried that informing the public and donating money might still not be enough, and the cold weather might spread the virus even more.
Experts say the deadly H5N1 virus poses the biggest threat in the colder months in affected regions, and could also spread in East Asia as people slaughter chickens for Lunar New Year celebrations.
The virus could also spread in Europe, with Muslim celebrating Eid al Adha period -a key Islamic feast day on which animals are sacraficed.
With the winter and holidays approaching, health officials have said they fear the virus could eventually mutate and spread rapidly from human to human, causing a worldwide pandemic.
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