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Bird Flu – a new strain from China?

Updated On: Nov 03, 2006

Reports have come out of Hong Kong and the World Health Organization (WHO) office that a new strain of bird flu is originating, incubating and coming out ofChina.

This effectively dampens the effectiveness of the ongoing vaccination program because the new strain is threatening to wipe out previous versions of the virus. The new virus called the Fujian-like (FL) virus seems to be responsible for increased infections of poultry in China since October 2005.

American scientists in St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis were the first to detect this virus along with researchers from the University of Hong Kong. The fear amongst this pioneering group of scientists and the international medical community is that this version of the virus could very well be the variant to proliferate human to human infections.

A reported human to human infection in Anhui is known to the Western media. The problem is endemic because one out of every 30 geese and one out of every 30 ducks have been tested positive for this virus in six Southern Chinese provinces.

The discovery of this virus has drawn unusually strong words from WHO to Beijing, with the former accusing the latter of hiding data and information about the new strain of virus. China’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has thus far refused to give samples of the virus to the international body. In fact, the MOA has not shared any samples since 2004.

There is a regional threat behind this virus because it has also been detected in Southeast Asia. The virus is likely to have some impact on Southeast AsiaSingaporewhich has just come up with an award-winning test kit for the bird flu may have to take into account this new strain based on the limited information available.

Malaysia’s Sabah state is also taking no chances as they set up special zones with “sentinel” or guard test chickens to interact with migratory birds and then observe if and how infection spreads. Malaysia’s concern is primarily Kalimantan as many of the 52 bird flu fatality record emanates from that Indonesian province. If infection is detected, all birds within 5 km of the “sentinel” chickens will be eliminated. 

Philippines is deploying another strategy. The national and local governments are monitoring birds in Ilocos Norte, which is located near China and the entry/take-off points of migratory birds flocking to Philippine swamps. Dr. Loida Chee, provincial veterinarian announced “We gathered more than 1,000 samples [during the first quarter this year] and all yielded negative results.”

Sources:

Bird flu test kit clinches top Asian Innovation Award (Channelnewsasia, 31 October 2006)

New bird flu variant reported in China (UPI, 31 October 2006)

Ilocos Norte areas at bird flu risk tagged (Philippines Inquirer, 21 October 2006)

Chicken 'guards' to stop bird flu entering Sabah (New Straits Times, 17 October 2006)