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Bird Flu Already in Europe?

by dvx Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 01:48:09 PM EST

The online version of our city paper is taking some time out from World Youth Day boosterism to tell us:

Bird Flu Possibly Already in Europe

While fairly superficial, as befits a provincial newspaper, this article does contain some interesting details about propagation channels.


(Note: see also whataboutbob's diary Bird Flu replication map for a global perspective on this issue.)

Berlin - In response to the approach of bird flu, the Federal government has intensified its preventative measures. The Federal Border Police (technically the "Federal Police" since July 1 - ed.) are to refuse persons entry to Germany in the event if there is a possibility that they carry the bird flu virus H5N1. ... Researchers assume that the greatest risk of spreading lies in illegal shipments of animals.

It would seem to me that "refusing entry" is a somewhat hollow gesture when someone is standing in a crowded passport control line with a high fever etc.,  but who am I to argue with the logic of the law? But be that as it may: The extent of the last problem is explained further down in this article:

According to a statement of the Bonn-based "Committee Against Bird Murder", experts estimate that more than 100,000 birds are smuggled into Germany from Russia and Asian countries each year.

A look at the associated news release reveals that this figure refers to illegally imported exotics, i.e. in addition to poultry imports. (The import of poultry and poultry products will likely be restricted through an EU directive soon, but that is not as yet the case).

In other words, there is a high likelihood that bird flu will arrive in Western Europe on the wings of illicit commerce.

What are the authorities doing?

A spokesperson for the Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture said that the authorities were currently researching the cause of a mass bird die-off on the European side of the Urals. The Ministry for Consumer Protection characterized the situation as "highly threatening". A group of experts will meet in Bonn on Thursday to deliberate on further actions. ... Minister Renate Künast (Grüne) will announce the results in Berlin on Friday.


Poultry farmers in the Netherlands are required to restrict their animals to stalls for the time being as protection against bird flu. The experts meeting in Bonn are to discuss whether this should also be applied in Germany.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the concrete measures described above are all on a law-enforcement level, not an epidemiological one. Nor have I been able to find any indication elsewhere that the German authorities have a plan for handling an outbreak comprising more than a few scattered individuals.

If Künast says anything substantive on Friday I will post it here as well.

Now it's time for my dinner (not chicken).

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 01:52:05 PM EST
Worrying, and the authorities are wise to contain it as best they can. However, on the Agonist website and other pages, they spell out mutations of H5N1 and how they differ. Some are much more dangerous to humans than others.
We have had outbreaks of bird flu here in Texas, but with rigorous measures as far as slaughtering the affected chickens and burning the remains, they have been stopped. I think the real danger is in places where each animal represents food or income to the people involved, and so they are reluctant to kill anything that might be put to use.
by northsylvania on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 03:33:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not entirely sure on this, but it is my understanding that this flu is only communicated bird to person at this point...not bird to person, then person to person yet. Does anyone have any further info on this (am I giving correct information?). I'll double check and get back with info.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 03:36:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just went to the World Health Organization webpage on the latest total of confirmed Avian Flu cases. There have been 112 cases and 57 deaths, in the last two years. How up to date is this? And how many unconfirmed cases? More...that's for sure, but I do think it will be huge news, if there is a confirmed case in Europe.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 03:46:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is my understanding as well, whereby imo the operative word is "yet".

The main fear at this point is that if a person infected with "human" flu additionally contracts H5N1, there is a high likelihood that DNA segments will become recombined in the replication process so as to give rise to an H5N1 strain that can be transmitted among humans.

This in addition to the inherent mutability of viruses.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 03:52:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mind you, the mutations and mixings could also result in the disease becoming less deadly as well.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 04:03:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True. But is that a responsible basis for health policy?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 04:15:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, but it's not a point you hear made very often.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 18th, 2005 at 04:52:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Diary H5N1

The Dutch are well prepared!

Russia admits bird flu outbreak is deadly H5N1 strain

The Emergencies Ministry has admitted that an outbreak of bird flu in Chelyabinsk, in the Ural mountains, is dangerous to humans. Nearly 500 birds had died over the past 24 hours.

Teams of sanitary workers have destroyed birds to prevent the westward spread of the virus.  Russia's top epidemiologist has warned that migrating birds may export the deadly virus to Europe and the Middle East.

The strain is the same one that has killed dozens of people in Asia and millions of poultry.

The Dutch government with Minister Vreeman, has ordered all poultry lifestock to be kept indoors from the moment the bird migration from Russia and Siberia starts. A precautionary measure to avoid another devastating outbreak similar to 2003 when many mistakes caused immense culling and sorrow by all citizens and agricultural sector at the time.

<click on pic> for article about 2003 Dutch bird flu outbreak

Vietnam to vaccinate chickens against bird flu

HANOI (Reuters) July 19, 2005 - Vietnam will use over 400 million batches of vaccine to inoculate its chickens and ducks against the deadly bird flu that has killed 40 people in the country, half of them since December 2004. Agriculture Deputy Minister Bui Ba Bong said in a plan that the government would use 415 million doses of Dutch and Chinese vaccines in a program starting in two provinces from August 1.

Other provinces facing high risk of infection would follow between October 1 and November 10, before the arrival of the winter when the deadly virus seems to thrive best. Vietnam has an estimated 210 million poultry.

The Chinese vaccine against the H5N1 virus, which international health officials fear could mutate into a form that might trigger a human pandemic, would be used on ducks.

A Dutch vaccine against the H5N2 virus, a less virulent strain which is not widespread in Vietnam, will be used on chickens. "The vaccine against the H5N2 virus works well against the H5N1 virus as it functions against the H5 subtype," Dau Ngoc Hao, deputy head of the Agriculture Ministry's Animal Health Department has told Reuters.


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 03:52:58 PM EST
but I worry about the rest of Europe. It only takes one outbreak that goes unattended to begin the spread.

We really are overdue for a major flu epidemic. I would hope that governments are stocking up on appropriate medicines. I'm not counting on it though, so I'm doing a little light planning (nothing too paranoid mind you, but just the usual emergency stuff that any good household should stock). I can't get into serious planning because I always remember Poe's Masque of the Red Death.

by gradinski chai on Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 05:15:40 PM EST

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