Apr 22, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The death last week of a 57-year-old Dutch veterinarian who had worked among chickens infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was apparently due to the same disease.
A report by the Dutch secretary of health, Clemence Ross-van Dorp, stated that the man died of pneumonia, and HPAI virus was detected in his lungs. Because no other explanation for his death was found, "there is a strong indication" that his death was due to the virus, the report stated. The report was published on the ProMED-mail Web site, a disease reporting service of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.
HPAI is usually fatal for chickens but rarely causes serious illness in humans. However, an avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997 crossed into the human population and caused six deaths.
The veterinarian, whose name was not disclosed, became sick 2 days after working on a farm where HPAI was present, Ross-van Dorp stated. "This is a very rare situation," he wrote. Previously, HPAI had caused conjunctivitis in a few Dutch workers exposed to infected chickens, but the veterinarian had no conjunctivitis, Ross-van Dorp reported.
He said influenza experts in Rotterdam would investigate whether the man was infected with a mutant form of the virus. A BBC News report today said that investigators had determined that he had the normal form of the virus.
The health secretary's report said the veterinarian had not been taking antiviral drugs. Dutch health officials have been advising people at risk for HPAI exposure to take oseltamivir, which has been found effective in preventing infection, according to the report.
The Netherlands has been struggling since the end of February to control the HPAI outbreak. The BBC report said 16 million chickens have been killed in the effort, out of a total of about 100 million chickens in the country. Last week the disease crossed into Belgium, and authorities were planning to destroy 250,000 chickens and other birds on two farms near the Dutch border, the Associated Press reported Apr 20.
The outbreak reportedly has caused Dutch agricultural officials to worry that avian and human influenza virus could mix in pigs and produce a new form that would be highly virulent for humans. Ross-van Dorp's report said that antibodies against avian influenza recently were detected in pigs on five farms in the outbreak area. He said the pigs were being removed from the farms and that further testing on those farms has shown no further spread of the virus.