Bird flu kills 250 penguins on Halifax Island

WALVIS BAY – The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources says samples collected from hundreds of dead penguins tested by the Central Veterinary Laboratory tested positive for Avian Influenza H5N8, a type of bird flu.
This follows after about 250 dead penguins were discovered late December on Halifax Island situated about 10 kilometres from Luderitz.

According to a press statement issued by the public relations officer of the ministry, De Wet Siluka, this specific strain of bird flu normally occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other birds or animal species as well. However, it does not normally infect humans.

Siluka said the ministry of fisheries has already taken precautionary measures and will continue to contain the infection to prevent further spreading.

“Such measures include regular visits to collect dead carcasses, isolating the sick birds and disinfecting wet areas around the colonies, and chemicals as the virus cannot survive in salt water,” he assured members of the public.
The infected birds will not usually get sick but can spread the contagious virus that can even kill certain domestic bird species including chickens and turkeys.

“Infected birds shed the virus through their saliva, nasal secretion and faeces.  Healthy birds can contract the virus by coming in contact with contaminated services.  However the good thing is that the virus cannot survive in salt water,” he said.

Halifax is situated about 10 kilometres west of Luderitz and is located about 100 metres off the mainland.  It is the third most important breeding site for African penguins and home to about 2 500 that contribute to the entire Namibian population of 26 000 penguins.  Other seabirds such as the crowned cormorants, swift terns and Hartlaub’s gulls also breed on this island.  Senior fisheries biologist, Desmond Tom, told New Era yesterday that humans are not at risk, however they can spread the virus to other animals if they get into contact with infected animals.
“The good thing however is that the island is currently non-accessible to people apart from fisheries officials,” he said.

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Large number of fish-eating birds Indian cormorants found dead at lakes in Bengaluru

Wildlife enthusiasts were appalled to see the cormorants dying in huge numbers at Kasavanahalli Lake where at least 50 to 60 birds have reportedly died in three days.


Devdiscourse News Desk Bengaluru Last Updated at 03-11-2018 06:59:03 IST India
Large number of fish-eating birds Indian cormorants found dead at lakes in Bengaluru
  • “We are also not sure what killed these birds. Our veterinary doctor will collect the sample and would submit a report soon,” said P Jagannath Rao. (Image Credit: Twitter)

https://www.devdiscourse.com/Article/science-environment/241484-large-number-of-fish-eating-birds-indian-cormorants-found-dead-at-lakes-in-bengaluru

A large number of Indian cormorants, a variety of fish-eating birds, have been found dead in the past three days at one of the lakes in Bengaluru, according to environmentalists. Wildlife enthusiasts were appalled to see the cormorants dying in huge numbers at Kasavanahalli Lake where at least 50 to 60 birds have reportedly died in three days.

A large number of the birds have died, a local lake protection group member L Sreenivas said Saturday. “We are not sure what the reasons are,” he said. The lake protection group members contacted civic authorities, who sent a veterinary doctor to ascertain the cause of death.

“We are also not sure what killed these birds. Our veterinary doctor will collect the sample and would submit a report soon,” said P Jagannath Rao, deputy conservator of forest (lake division). Initially, the local groups suspected the involvement of a fish contractor, who might have poisoned the birds. It was, however, ruled out as the fish were in good health. The other possibilities could be avian bird flu or the cyanobacteria bloom in the lake. Bengaluru lakes have been in the news for wrong reasons due to high contamination.

The largest among all the water bodies in Bengaluru, the Bellandur lake has been in the limelight for catching fire due to the high level of non-biodegradable chemicals, as well as heavy metals. Despite the National Green Tribunal’s direction to the civic agencies, the water quality of Bellandur lake and water bodies upstream have not improved much, according to officials.

(With inputs from agencies.)

Hong Kong sisters spearhead pigeon rescues but face prejudice and legal obstacles

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2168286/hong-kong-sisters-spearhead-pigeon-rescues-face

Inez and Gian help the city’s wounded birds in the face of opposition from the public and they want the government to do more to help combat misconceptions about the health risks from contact with pigeons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2018, 10:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2018, 10:04am
In Victoria Park, an elderly man, visibly annoyed, spits a mouthful of water at a flock of feeding pigeons.
He turns to sisters Gian and Inez and snaps at them: “The reason they’re here defecating and spreading germs all over the place is because people like you feed them!”

The man, who declined to give his name, then takes a fresh mouthful of water before launching another attack on the birds.

Inez says this outburst is relatively mild, adding that she has seen people pour boiling water over pigeons.

She and Gian run “Hong Kong Pigeon and Dove Rescue”, a Facebook group dedicated to promoting awareness for the well-being of pigeons, and which teaches members how to nurse sick birds back to health.

When Gian rescued her first pigeon four years ago, she took the injured bird to several vets before one was willing to take a look at it. The pigeon had a broken wing and it was likely it would never fly again. On the vet’s advice, Gian reluctantly had the bird put down. “Looking back, I think I could’ve nursed it back to health and kept it,” she says. “Even if it never flew again, at least it would’ve lived.”

It was this loss that inspired Gian and Inez, both in their 30s and who prefer to be mentioned only by their first names, to start the Facebook group. With the help of a few like-minded friends, in one year, the group has developed into a community of more than 1,100 members.

“There aren’t many locally available pigeon care resources and providers, unlike those for cats and dogs,” says Gian, a self-taught pigeon rescuer.

“So we created a platform where people can exchange pigeon care tips and learn how to care for sick and injured pigeons without professional intervention.”

For many Hongkongers, like those in the park, what they are doing is unthinkable.

“Pigeons are filthy!” Leung Iok-lam, 70, says.

A pair of Form Six students from a nearby secondary school seem to agree. “I wouldn’t touch a sick pigeon if I saw one,” Melody Ni Tak-yan says. “I’d worry about contracting some sort of disease.”

“Or making a sick pigeon sicker,” Lim Chi-ling adds.

Gian and Inez however, believe pigeons are the victims of misconceptions.

“Many people automatically associate pigeons with avian flu, partly because of public health campaigns,” says Gian, referring to government regulations that forbid feeding feral pigeons to prevent the spread of so-called “bird diseases”.

“I see where they’re coming from, but I hope they would delve deeper into this issue instead of simply believing everything they hear.”

The regulations were introduced in 2003 as part of the government’s efforts to slow the growth of feral bird populations, which authorities claimed were a public nuisance and the cause of hygiene problems. Offenders face fines of HK$1,500 (US$191).

However, according to findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from 2002, comparative studies involving pigeons and other bird species showed pigeons were resistant or minimally susceptible to coming down with bird flu.

Subsequent studies on pigeons sampled in China, Japan, Turkey, Romania and Ukraine suggest that pigeons have played a minimal role in the spread of the H5N1 avian flu virus, which emerged in 2004.

Still, the WHO cautioned against unnecessary close contact with pigeons, citing other studies that demonstrate an increased susceptibility of pigeons to the H5N1 strain.

Gian and Inez, who have cared for more than 100 sick or injured pigeons over the past four years, say they have never contracted diseases from the birds, despite not using gloves, surgical masks and other protective gear when handling them. The sisters believe the government’s persistent warnings have created an unwarranted fear of pigeons among many Hongkongers, including even animal health care workers.

“One time, I took a pigeon to the vet to get an X-ray – and it was returned to me with a broken leg,” says Inez. She suspects the medical staff, whom she says were reluctant to handle the bird , broke the leg during the scan.

Meanwhile, Gian recalls being turned down by multiple vets: “Many vets are concerned about taking in pigeons because they do not want to risk getting in trouble with the law, or worry about bird flu affecting business.”

“Many vets are concerned about taking in pigeons because they do not want to risk getting in trouble with the law, or worry about bird flu affecting business”

In Hong Kong, premises where more than 20 pigeons are bred, housed, or cared for require a licence.

Gian has had to rent a second flat to accommodate her work. Her retail career, which requires shift work, means dedicating time to the pigeons can sometimes be difficult. “When you really believe in something, you’ll do whatever it takes to do it right,” she says.

Looking ahead, the Facebook group hopes to involve more experts and professionals from relevant fields to conduct research on the impact of pigeons on public health and the environment, and potentially propose changes to legislation and education – for example, designating feeding zones and implementing measures to control the pigeon population.

Passionate as she may be, Gian is careful where she draws the line between her career, personal life and volunteering. “Many people take it for granted that we would drop everything and help out whenever there is a pigeon in need,” she says. “But I have my own life to lead. If we’re going to push for change, it’s got to be a team effort.”

The Next Pandemic Will Be Arriving Shortly

Deadly diseases like Ebola and the avian flu are only one flight away. The U.S. government must start taking preparedness seriously.

Medical staff check each other's protective suits before entering the isolation unit at a hospital in Bundibugyo, western Uganda, during a suspected case of Ebola. Aug. 17. (Sumy Sadurni /AFP/Getty Images)

Medical staff check each other’s protective suits before entering the isolation unit at a hospital in Bundibugyo, western Uganda, during a suspected case of Ebola. Aug. 17. (Sumy Sadurni /AFP/Getty Images)

There are plenty of security threats that could keep a former homeland security advisor awake. There is the possibility of a terrorist attack, a cyber-cataclysm, or any number of natural disasters—all threats that are capable of visiting destruction on entire communities in a matter of hours. Right at the top of that list is the threat of a deadly pandemic—an outbreak of infectious disease that rapidly crosses international borders.

In January 2017, while one of us was serving as a homeland security advisor to outgoing President Barack Obama, a deadly pandemic was among the scenarios that the outgoing and incoming U.S. Cabinet officials discussed in a daylong exercise that focused on honing interagency coordination and rapid federal response to potential crises. The exercise is an important element of the preparations during transitions between administrations, and it seemed things were off to a good start with a commitment to continuity and a focus on biodefense, preparedness, and the Global Health Security Agenda—an initiative begun by the Obama administration to help build health security capacity in the most critically at-risk countries around the world and to prevent the spread of infectious disease. But that commitment was short-lived.

Pandemic disease is arguably one of the greatest threats to global stability and security.

Pandemic disease is arguably one of the greatest threats to global stability and security.

But investments to contend with such outbreaks have declined to their lowest levels since the height of the Ebola response in 2014, with U.S. federal dollars cut by over 50 percent from those peak levels.The prevailing laissez-faire attitude toward funding pandemic preparedness within President Donald Trump’s White House is creating new vulnerabilities in the health infrastructure of the United States and leaving the world with critical gaps to contend with when the next global outbreak of infectious disease hits.

The investments made after the 2014 Ebola crisis have been slashed in recent proposed federal budgets from the Centers for Disease Control, the agency that works to stop deadly diseases in their tracks, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which responds to international disasters, including the Ebola outbreak. Moreover, Timothy Ziemer, the top White House official in charge of pandemic preparedness, has left his job, and the biosecurity office he ran was summarily disbanded.

This lack of focus and relative decline in funding is dangerous, given the steady stream of global reports suggesting that transmission of potentially deadly zoonotic diseases, where pathogens move from animals to humans, is rising at an alarming rate. Some attribute this to climate change, with warmer climates everywhere extending the life cycles of mosquito-borne diseases and allowing them to reach higher altitudes and more temperate latitudes. This means that viral diseases such as Zika, dengue fever, and the West Nile virus are transmittable across a larger geographical area later into the year.

As a result, in 2018, it is impossible to reconcile the redirection of funds away from preparing for pandemics with these realities on the ground. Ebola, the quintessential zoonotic killer, has risen again, now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with World Health Organization officials describing the outbreak as on the “precipice” of a potential spread to neighboring countries. While this year’s response was far more rapid and effective than responses to prior outbreaks in Africa, cases continue to rise in hard-to-reach places with little health care infrastructure near Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda, prompting fears of regional spread.

Perhaps most terrifying, difficult to treat and highly fatal strains of H7N9 avian influenza are spreading throughout China.

Perhaps most terrifying, difficult to treat and highly fatal strains of H7N9 avian influenza are spreading throughout China.

This strain of bird flu causes rapid respiratory illness with associated multiorgan dysfunction that’s easily spread by a small droplet. That’s why it’s so difficult to control and why recurrent epidemics continue to crop up: There have been five epidemics of H7N9 since 2013 in China alone, the most recent between the fall of 2016 and fall of 2017. Across these epidemics, among the 1,565 confirmed cases, about 40 percent of infected individuals died.That is a staggering number that should frighten us all—particularly given that China, unlike other resource-limited states in Asia, has at least some capability to rapidly respond to emerging crises through its own Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which can deploy critical care and other public health emergency services.

Consider that it takes only one infected carrier of bird flu to escape screening or detection at a train station or airport to transform a local health crisis into a global pandemic. As there are over 60 nonstop flights between China and the United States daily, with an estimated total of 30,000 passengers traveling between the two countries each day, this possibility is more than a remote and existential threat. Transmission of bird flu to the United States is just a flight away, which is why durable investments in the Global Health Security Agenda are so important, allowing the U.S. government to address deadly pathogen transmission early and hopefully to do so before it reaches U.S. shores.

The WHO has tried to increase attention and enhance preparedness by strongly supporting the Joint External Evaluation, an assessment of each country’s capabilities in preventing, detecting, and responding to a potential outbreak. According to the first analyses of these results, global readiness to combat the next pandemic is broadly lacking. The starkest finding was that nearly 90 percent of the core public health capacities regarded as essential to pandemic preparedness, across a broad cross-section of countries, are not sufficiently developed to cope with the next major outbreak.

Going Viral

In 2006, the Smithsonian Institute dubbed Balclutha-born Prof Robert Webster the "Flu Hunter" for...

by Bruce Munro
In 2006, the Smithsonian Institute dubbed Balclutha-born Prof Robert Webster the “Flu Hunter” for his significant, decades-long contribution to understanding and fighting influenza. Photo: ODT files

Serendipity has marked the distinguished career of Prof Robert Webster’s international fight against the deadly influenza virus. 

Similarly, coincidences will cause the next monster influenza epidemic, for which we are woefully unprepared, the former Otago researcher tells Bruce Munro.

It is hard to believe that the erudite and engaging voice on the phone belongs to an 86-year-old.

But there is no denying that renowned virologist Prof Robert Webster, on a call from his home in Memphis, Tennessee, was born in Balclutha, Otago, in 1932. Nor that the story he is recounting, of a surprising yet definitive moment in the battle against influenza, happened half a century ago, to him.

“It started off, more or less, as a joke,” Prof Webster recalls.

One day, in 1967, he and fellow future influenza expert, the late Dr Graeme Laver, were walking on a beach in New South Wales, Australia. Noticing numbers of dead muttonbirds (shearwaters) washed up on the shore, and knowing that terns had been killed by influenza in South Africa six years previous, they wondered aloud whether these birds too had died of the `flu.

“Laver and I decided it would be a bit of a lark to head to the muttonbirding sites on the Great Barrier Reef, on a hunch that they might indeed be infected with influenza.”

In the late-1960s, influenza, even though it had killed tens of millions of people worldwide in 1918 and had killed 1.5 million in Asia in 1957, still held many of its secrets.

During the 1930s, it had been proven that influenza was not caused by a bacteria but a virus. Later, two different types of influenza virus were identified (The final count would be three, with a fourth proposed but as yet unproven).

By mid-century, it was recognised that different strains of the virus made it difficult to create effective vaccines. The big question then was, did influenza pandemics occur because there were lots of different strains of the flu circulating in the human population or because humans were somehow being infected with various strains carried by animals?

Influenza and pandemics (ie global epidemic) of the past century. Image: supplied

Influenza and pandemics (ie global epidemic) of the past century. Image: supplied

Profs Webster and Laver, then junior scientists in their mid-20s, pitched their muttonbird research idea to the head of the microbiology department at the Australian National University (ANU), but were rebuffed. So, they took it to someone at the World Health Organisation who they knew supported the theory that pigs were the source of human influenza pandemics. They received their funding. Then the ANU also came on board.

During the next several years, the men, along with their families and other scientists, made seven trips to Great Barrier Reef islands to sample muttonbirds for the flu virus.

“We generally spent the days swimming and snorkelling on the most fabulous coral reef in the world, harvesting fish and lobster for our meals. The evenings were spent doing the science,” Prof Webster says.

Two significant discoveries were made.

They found that some of the muttonbirds had indeed been infected with the influenza virus. They also discovered that harmless versions of influenza viruses could be carried by healthy birds, but that the same viruses could change and become killers.

These were vital insights into the origins of pandemic flu viruses.

But, as Prof Webster admits, they were breakthroughs born of a chance stroll on a beach that birthed an idea which was part serious scientific inquiry and part young men looking for excitement and fun.

“It was a bit of both, to be absolutely honest. As students and junior staff, we were looking for some adventure on the barrier reef with our families.”

There was still a long way to go. In the future lay breakthroughs (which Prof Webster would lead or contribute to) that would prove that wild aquatic birds are indeed a major reservoir of the viruses that become human pandemics and that the viruses can cause no trouble to the birds but become killers when they spread to other animals and humans. There would also be discoveries that would lead to the development of Tamiflu, still the world’s most effective treatment for people infected with influenza.

All that lay ahead. But it was a start towards understanding and trying to prevent recurrence of the most deadly recorded human influenza pandemic, the 1918 Spanish Flu.

Chance events, as much as deliberate decisions, shape history.

By 1918, trenches stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss border. The stressful, overcrowded,...

By 1918, trenches stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss border. The stressful, overcrowded, unhygienic conditions as well as the presence of mutagenic gases being used as chemical warfare, provided the ideal conditions for a monster influenza pandemic to emerge: the 1918 Spanish Flu. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

THE Spanish Flu, which 100 years ago killed somewhere between 25 million and 100 million people, is an astonishing case in point.

That particular virus was a nasty piece of work.

Prof Webster, whose team took early steps towards others’ later successful attempts to decode it, describes how the 1918 flu attacked people.

“A perfectly healthy young person … would develop a headache and muscle soreness, their body temperature would rise as high as 41.1degC and some people would become delirious.

“The person would be so weak they would fall down; mahogany-coloured spots would appear on the face, which itself would turn blue or blackish from lack of oxygen; and the person would bleed from the ears and nose.

“The lungs would fill with blood and the person would essentially drown in their own blood.”

The 1918 flu erupted on both sides of the battle lines in the dying stages of World War 1, probably brought to Europe by United States (US) soldiers infected with a less deadly strain of the flu.

Why it became a monster killer comes down to the specific conditions the virus encountered in the mud and blood-filled trenches. Horrendous overcrowding and unbelievably unhygienic conditions allowed it to spread quickly. Chemical warfare, specifically gases that are known to cause mutations, enabled the virus to develop terrible qualities. Then, wartime secrecy allowed soldiers to carry it home and infect unsuspecting civilian populations worldwide.

After Germany and its allies surrendered, negotiations were held in Paris, France, to determine how much reparation would have to be paid. US president Woodrow Wilson wanted Germany to be shown leniency. French president Georges Clemenceau wanted the Germans severely punished.

Wilson threatened to walk out. But then he contracted the flu. He survived, but with a markedly changed personality.

It is known that the virus did damage some sufferer’s brains, Prof Webster says.

Suddenly, Woodrow gave in to all the French president’s demands. Germany was loaded with an enormous war debt.

The ensuing economic hardship and resentment helped the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

Without the 1918 flu, there might have been no World War 2.

“I can’t guarantee it wouldn’t have occurred. But, I speculate that it wouldn’t have occurred,” Prof Webster says.

He was 13 years old when World War 2 ended.

Caged chickens at a poultry market in Nanjing, China, in 2007. At the time, Chinese state media...

Caged chickens at a poultry market in Nanjing, China, in 2007. At the time, Chinese state media was reporting bird flu’s deadly toll. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

A few years later, he left the family farm at Pukepito, near Balclutha, and enrolled at the University of Otago to study chemistry. But a lack of high school chemistry and a chance meeting with the head of the microbiology department saw him changing course.

Fate stepped in again early in his post-graduate career. Interested in studying the rabbit-killing virus, myxomatosis, he applied to a relevant research laboratory at ANU.

But, the day he arrived, he was told the research group was full and he was being put in a group studying influenza.

“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my God, I know nothing about flu’.”

He was far from happy. But, other than resign, there was nothing he could do about it. He readily agrees that coincidences have played a big role in his life and career.

“It’s a case of making the most of these things. Sometimes, they work out.”

By the early-1970s, Prof Webster was living in the US, working in the departments of microbiology and immunology at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in Memphis.

In 1975, the hospital became a World Health Organisation influenza research collaboration centre. The same year, with his reputation rising, Prof Webster was invited to take part in a joint American-Soviet influenza research programme.

He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1989, was recognised by the US National Academy of Sciences nine years later and made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, in 1990.

At Christmas time, in 1997, he was in the thick of it when the first human outbreak of H5N1, bird flu, took place in Hong Kong. People were catching the virus from infected poultry in the city’s more than 1000, crowded, live-bird markets .

At one point, 30% of those getting sick were dying.

“The huge concern was that the virus might start to spread from human to human, which could lead to a global catastrophe.”

Prof Webster, and the international team of young scientists he had trained, played a vital role in identifying the virus. He was part of the advisory group that called for all live poultry in Hong Kong to be culled. As a result, there were no more human cases of H5N1 at that time.

In 2005, Prof Webster established the Webster Family Chair in Viral Pathogenesis, at the University of Otago.

The next year, the Smithsonian Institute, in an article about him, dubbed Prof Webster “the Flu Hunter” for his significant, decades-long contribution to understanding and fighting influenza.

The natural reservoirs of influenza A viruses in wild aquatic birds and their transmission...

The natural reservoirs of influenza A viruses in wild aquatic birds and their transmission through host animals to mammals, including humans. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

Now in his ninth decade, Prof Webster, still based at St Jude Hospital, continues to travel, research, write and speak on the flu virus.

His gravest fear is that an influenza pandemic on the scale of the 1918 flu is not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

In that catastrophic eventuality, he predicts chance will once again play a decisive hand.

All of the distinctive qualities that made the 1918 flu so deadly are out there, but scattered among different viruses, he says.

And nature is continually “shuffling the deck” – viruses are always mutating.

“The cards are all out there. Sooner or later there will be one that could be as bad as 1918.”

All it needs, he says, is the right combination of factors to allow viruses to come together, share genetic material, hit the jackpot and proliferate.

A combo such as that presented by the hajj; the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Every year, more than three million people from dozens of countries congregate in the 400m by 800m, Great Mosque of Mecca during the final month of the Muslim lunar year.

“Just imagine if that virus got into the hajj. The 2009 flu got into the hajj. People come from very depressed parts of the world … [some of which] don’t have particularly good health conditions. That would be the perfect place for it to occur.”

What about hot spots such as the Rohingya refugee camps, on the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar, where camps of more than 600,000 people are crowded together in often squalid conditions?

“Exactly,” Prof Webster responds. “What a bloody good suggestion. That’s exactly the sort of stressful situation where that thing could explode.”

His efforts to monitor and mitigate influenza’s deadly potential continue.

“We are watching what is happening in the huge poultry markets in Bangladesh. We tell them what viruses they’ve got and how it’s changing.”

Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus, by Robert G. Webster, published by Otago...

Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus, by Robert G. Webster, published by Otago University Press, will be launched mid-September.

He is encouraging the development of more drugs to tackle flu.

“There is still really only one drug at the moment, Tamiflu, which came out of the barrier reef work.”

But there are now some drugs in the pipeline, from Japan, that are looking hopeful, he says.

Prof Webster is also keeping a keen eye on the search for a universal vaccine that would be effective against all strains of the virus. It is closer than the goal of producing flu-resistant pigs and poultry, but, at present, is still a “pipedream”, he says.

He warns there are steps that could be taken, but which are not, that leave us globally vulnerable to another catastrophic flu virus.

Crowded markets selling live chickens and ducks are the perfect breeding ground for new viruses that can be transmitted to humans and then develop human-to-human capabilities.

“We have to get rid of those damned poultry markets.

“They really have to go … but it’s not going to happen easily.”

New Zealand may seem a long way from where a potent flu virus could emerge. But nowhere is more than one or two plane flights from anywhere on the globe.

“One of the things that aeroplane manufacturers don’t like to do is to put in those hepa filters to stop disease spreading … Only a few airlines do it.”

If a killer flu did start spreading, the WHO influenza network would kick into action to identify it and produce a vaccine.

“But it would still take us six months to make a vaccine. What are we going to do in the meantime? The flu doesn’t stop. It gets on an aeroplane and it’s all over the world.

“If the flu is a really hot one, it could take out millions of people before we could do a damned thing.

“[Eventually], nature is going to shuffle the perfect hand.

“And if nature gets it right, then we are in the poo.”

A lethal game of chicken: the next trade war with China could be a matter of life and death

http://www2.philly.com/philly/health/health-cents/a-lethal-game-of-chicken-the-next-trade-war-with-china-could-be-a-matter-of-life-and-death-20180904.html

A lethal game of chicken: the next trade war with China could be a matter of life and death

AP FILE/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL

The most important trade war to come may have nothing to do with cars, steel or soybeans. It may involve a virus.

The vast agricultural enterprise in southern China is the source of most new flu strains. Under rules established by the World Health Organization in 2011, China has routinely shared samples of them with researchers in the United States and other countries where vaccines are developed. But recent trade tensions may be leading it to change course.

Influenza is a serious disease. The seasonal variety kills thousands of people worldwide each year. But its impact pales in comparison with pandemic flu. That is the kind that emerges every few years and spreads like wildfire around the globe, sometimes killing millions – as it did in 1918.

Public health officials fear that a new flu pandemic may be on its way. A strain of bird flu known as H7N9 originated among poultry in China in 2013 and evolved into a form that can infect humans. It reportedly kills 40% of those who become ill. It has not yet spread beyond China and is not yet contagious from human to humans, with only about 1,600 reported casesso far. However, should it mutate into a form that can be spread between people, the threat could be worldwide.

A vaccine against H7N9 could save thousands of lives – maybe millions. However, China is refusing to share virus samples despite repeated requests. It has even refused to share clinical data on infected patients. Information flowed freely soon after the strain first emerged, but it has slowed to a stop. Researchers have obtained a few samples from Taiwan and Hong Kong, but those may not be enough to develop a vaccine.

China claims that it has almost eradicated the virus with a single poultry vaccination campaign, so further vaccine development is not needed. But public health experts are not reassured, since mutations are always possible.

This is not the first time China has been secretive about a pandemic threat. In 2002, it hid information on SARS, and in 2005, it hoarded samples of a previous bird flu strain, H5N1. But until recently, it had been cooperating with the World Health Organization’s more recent rules on sharing flu strain samples.

Why the sudden secretiveness? One possibility is that China is trying to avoid harm to its poultry industry. Another is that it is looking for a head-start over the U.S. and other countries in developing a vaccine on its own.

However, the is also a strong possibility that it is responding to the brewing trade war with the U.S.

Among the Chinese exports on which the U.S. has threatened to impose tariffs are pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, and other medical supplies. Virus samples seem to be part of the mix of products over which we are negotiating, even though no one actually owns them so tariffs should not apply. China may be waiting for the outcome of those talks before allowing virus samples out of the country.

While the United States and China trade tariff threats, the risk grows that we will be unprepared if a pandemic arrives. The fight over bird flu samples is a game of chicken in more ways than one, and it could have lethal consequences.

International trade is more than just an economic issue, as important as that is. It is also a matter of public health. Unless our trade policy recognizes that as a priority, a lot more may be at stake than the prices we pay for imported goods.

_____________________

Robert I. Field, JD, MPH, PhD, is professor of law and public health at Drexel University and is the founder and editor of the Health Cents blog.

Infected East Coast seals are washing ashore – and are a danger to people and pets, experts say

Gray seals can grow up to 10 feet and weigh as much as 880 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Gray seals can grow up to 10 feet and weigh as much as 880 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA Fisheries

Infected East Coast seals are washing ashore – and are a danger to people and pets, experts say

September 02, 2018 12:59 PM

Deadly bird flu ‘could kill millions across the world’ because China refuses to share samples of virus

PANDEMIC RISK 

Without samples of the virus UK health bosses will struggle to create a vaccine for the bug, which experts have warned has the potential to become a pandemic

A DEADLY strain of bird flu could infect the world as China is refusing to share samples of the virus with Brit health bosses.

It comes after it was revealed Chinese authorities have also refused US requests for lab samples of the bug for a year.

 A new strain of bird flu has killed some 600 people in China, but Chinese authorities are refusing to share lab samples of the bug with UK health officials, it has been reported

AFP – GETTY
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A new strain of bird flu has killed some 600 people in China, but Chinese authorities are refusing to share lab samples of the bug with UK health officials, it has been reported

To date there have been 1,625 cases of the H7N9 virus, a virus normally found in poultry, in people including a rise in 2017 cases.

Some 623 people have died.

The virus is thought to be only a few mutations away from being able to be spread from humans to humans, according to The Telegraph.

Currently, it can only be spread from birds to humans – meaning a person has to come into contacted with infected birds to catch the disease.

 Without samples of the virus UK health bosses will struggle to create a vaccine for the bug, which has the potential to become a pandemic

GETTY – CONTRIBUTOR
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Without samples of the virus UK health bosses will struggle to create a vaccine for the bug, which has the potential to become a pandemic

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tan said earlier this year that is was a likely candidate for the next global flu pandemic if it mutates.

Countries are required to share samples of flu viruses likely to become pandemics under World Health Organisation regulations.

A leading UK expert has confirmed that China had shared lab samples in 2013 and 2016  but a new request for an alternative version of the bug made “for safety considerations” has been refused.

The UK made the request over a year ago.

China has failed to provide a reason for its refusal to share samples here or in America.

 The symptoms of H7N9 include a high fever, cough and shortness of breath, which can then develop into pneumonia

GETTY – CONTRIBUTOR
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The symptoms of H7N9 include a high fever, cough and shortness of breath, which can then develop into pneumonia

Sharing viruses is vital in helping countries prepare for potential pandemic outbreaks, including vaccinations and treatment plans.

It’s not known if the last bird flu sample China shared in 2016 is up to date enough to help the UK prepare for a potential outbreak.

Without an updated version health bosses will struggle to be able to develop a vaccine to protect against the new virus.


FIND OUT MORE What is Bird Flu, where is there an outbreak in the UK, how is it affecting farmers across Europe and can humans catch it?


“If the virus is going to jump you want to be ahead of the the game with a vaccine,” said Professor Ian Jones, an expert in virology at the University of Reading.

“If the virus were to jump it would become a pandemic strain.”

Most people who contract bird flu become seriously ill and around 40 per cent of cases are fatal.

It is possible to create a vaccine using a gene sequence of the H7N9 bug, but vaccines are normally made using samples of the actual virus.

Dr John McCauley, director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre in London said: “With the gene sequence data you can develop a vaccine – it’s doable. But it’s not the way vaccines are made and regulated at present.

“There is a better feeling of confidence with the actual virus in hand.”

While there are many different strains of bird flu, only two of them have caused serious concerns for humans over the past few decades.

A TYPE OF FLU SPREAD BY BIRDS

Bird flu, which is also known as avian flu, is a type of influenza that mainly affects birds.

While there are many different strains of bird flu, only two of them have caused serious concerns for humans over the past few decades.

The H5N1 has led to medical problems since 1997 and H7N9 has been prevalent since 2013.

Bird flu can spread to people when they have direct contact with the infection.

Close and prolonged contact with an infected bird is generally required for the infection to spread to humans.

For example:

  • touching infected birds that are dead or alive
  • inhaling or being in contact with dried dust from the droppings or bedding of infected birds
  • inhaling or being in contact with droplets sneezed by infected birds
  • culling, slaughtering, butchering or preparing infected poultry for cooking

Last year, The World Health Organisation confirmed that 840 people had been infected by the H6N1 virus worldwide by May 2015 and 447 of the cases were fatal.

Symptoms:

Symptoms include

  • high temperature
  • aching muscles
  • headache
  • respiratory problems
  • diarrhoea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • chest pain
  • nose and gum bleeding

Symptoms can come on suddenly.

The time from infection to the start of symptoms (incubation period) is usually three to five days.

In rare cases, bird flu can trigger some potentially fatal complications, such as pneumonia and multiple organ failure.

Treatment:

It is so contagious, sufferers are warned to stay at home or are treated in isolation in hospital.

They are advised to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take medication to relieve the symptoms of fever and pain.

Anti-viral medication may also be prescribed.

The H5N1 has led to medical problems since 1997 and H7N9 has been prevalent since 2013.

Bird flu can spread to people when they have direct contact with the infection.

Close and prolonged contact with an infected bird is generally required for the infection to spread to humans.

Experts have predicted the H7N9 strain could be as lethal as the 1918 Spanish fluwhich killed up to 100 million people, if it mutates to be passed on from person to person.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England said the H7N9 virus could cause a global outbreak.

He said: “[H7N9] is an example of another virus which has proven its ability to transmit from birds to humans.

“It’s possible that it could be the cause of the next pandemic.”

The symptoms of H7N9 include a high fever, cough and shortness of breath which can then develop into pneumonia.

Once the disease has developed, those infected develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock and organ failure.

Older people, pregnant women and those with existing health problems are most at risk, according to the World Health Organisation.

According to the NHS “close and prolonged contact with an infected bird is generally required for the infection to spread to humans”.

China Won’t Share Its Samples of a Deadly Flu Virus. Here’s Why That’s a Problem.

China Won't Share Its Samples of a Deadly Flu Virus. Here's Why That's a Problem.

This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist is measuring the amount of H7N9 virus that has been grown and harvested in CDC’s laboratory in 2013.

Credit: CDC/ Douglas E. Jordan

To protect people against the next flu pandemic, scientists need to know what flu strains are circulating and how they are changing. But such efforts can be stymied if countries don’t share flu samples, and now, the Chinese government appears to be withholding samples of the dangerous bird flu virus H7N9 from the United States, according to news reports.

For more than a year, China has not provided samples of H7N9 to the United States, despite persistent requests from officials and research institutions, according to The New York Times.

Experts say samples of H7N9 are needed to develop vaccines against the virus and treatments for it.

“Jeopardizing U.S. access to foreign pathogens and therapies to counter them undermines our nation’s ability to protect against infections which can spread globally within days,” Dr. Michael Callahan, an infectious-disease specialist at Harvard Medical School, told The New York Times.

A new strain of H7N9 first appeared in China in 2013, and it has caused infections in both humans and animals. This virus is concerning because most people who develop infections with it become severely ill, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Indeed, the virus has a 40-percent fatality rate, The New York Times reported. But so far, the virus doesn’t appear to spread easily between people; most human infections were in people who’d had contact with live poultry or visited markets where the birds were sold.

In 2016 to 2017, China experienced a spike in human cases of H7N9, with 766 cases reported. In light of this recent outbreak, U.S. scientists want to study the virus’s evolution. But this means they need access to flu samples from China.

“Given that this flu virus is a potential threat to humanity, not sharing it immediately with the global network of WHO laboratories, like CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], is scandalous,” Andrew C. Weber, former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs under the Obama administration, told the New York Times. “Many could die needlessly if China denies international access to samples.”

Although Chinese officials originally provided timely information about H7N9 when the virus first appeared in 2013, communication on the topic has gradually worsened, with the country also refusing to share data from human patients infected with the virus, The New York Times reported.

NOAA Blames Massive Seal Deaths On Bird Flu

Researchers think hundreds of seals that washed up on the east coast died of flu

GLOUCHESTER, Mass. — Researchers think hundreds of seals that washed up on the east coast might have been sick with avian flu or distemper.

As of August 21, 250 of the animals were found dead on New England beaches.
They washed up in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

At least 80 others survived and are getting help from groups like the Harpswell Organization.

Lauren Lynda Doughty is its executive director.  “At least were starting to get some results back, and then we can still continue the testing to see what’s the bigger picture. What does this mean?”

Doughty says grey and harbor seals tend to socialize on the same rock.
That means diseases can spread among them quickly.