Bird Flu Update
Virus Continues to Spread Throughout Asia, Arrives in U.S.
February 20th, 2004
By Ken McGrath :eCureMe Staff Writer
February 18th, 2004 : Physician Approved
Avian flu continued to spread in Asia during February, with the death toll reaching 22,
while a milder form of the virus has been found in chicken in Delaware, Pennsylvania and
Mutation Not Ruled Out
Officials from the United Nations have commented that given the spread of the virus
across Asia, the number of deaths is relatively low. Presently, the strain of the virus
circulating in Asia - H5N1 avian influenza - can infect humans. However, what
has most public health experts concerned isn’t what the virus is, but what it
could become. If avian influenza were to come in contact with a strain of human influenza
virus and mutate, it could pick up genetic material that would allow it to spread from
person to person. In that case, experts warn, the disease would spread much more rapidly
and possibly becoming the next influenza epidemic.
On Friday, February 6th, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the results of
tests performed on two sisters who had died of the disease in Vietnam. The results
concluded, to the relief of many, that the viruses that infected the women contained no
human genes. On February 10th the WHO pulled back on its pronouncement. A mix-up in
the testing, it said, meant that the data it had wasn’t complete enough to support
its previous assertion, re-opening the door for possible human-to-human
Flu Emerges in Northeast
As H5N1 avian flu continued to spread throughout Asia during the first week of February,
officials in the U.S. found a variant of the virus in chickens on two Delaware farms.
The type of virus found in Delaware, known as an H7, cannot be spread to humans. Farms
within a 50-mile radius of the infected flocks were quarantined and 84,000 of the
state’s chickens were slaughtered.
The same strain of virus appeared a week later in four separate live chicken markets in
New Jersey. State health officials stressed to the media that such findings were not
unusual when live market chickens were tested during the winter.
On February 16th, Pennsylvania Agriculture Department confirmed that a flock in the sout
heastern part of the state was infected with an H2N2 strain of the virus - which like
those in other outbreaks isn’t harmful to humans.
While timely, mild outbreaks of avian flu have occurred periodically in the U.S. since
the 1920s. A northeastern outbreak in 1983 and 1984 resulted in the slaughter of 17
million chickens and a spike in the price of eggs. Expensive and inconvenient, even the
deadly H5N1 strain is, so far, only communicable to humans through direct contact with
infected birds. Once the animal is slaughtered and readied for consumption, cooking
easily kills the virus.
Despite its limitations, authorities aren’t betting on avian flu disappearing any
time soon. Speaking to Reuters, Samuel Jutzi, director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization’s animal health department, said " We hope that countries in
[Asia] can get on top of the disease, but we are less certain as to whether the virus
can be pushed back or eliminatedíŽIt may well be that the sector has to live with this
virus as it tries to live with other diseases."
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