Mar 22, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – South Korea today reported its first outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in more than 6 weeks.
News of the Korean outbreak came 2 days after Vietnam reported its 16th human death from H5N1 avian flu and 3 days after international animal health officials again warned Asian countries not to declare victory over the disease too soon.
Chickens at a farm in Yangju, 25 miles north of Seoul, tested positive for H5N1 avian flu over the weekend, the Korea Times and other news services reported. The outbreak was the first reported in the country since Feb 5, the newspaper said.
A Reuters report said 16,000 chickens on the farm were destroyed yesterday and another 400,000 chickens and ducks within 3 kilometers of the farm would be destroyed. Authorities also planned to check all poultry farms within 30 to 40 kilometers of the site for new outbreaks.
Health officials also said more than 2,000 chickens that had been shipped from the affected farm to a slaughter facility north of Seoul would be destroyed, Reuters reported.
Vietnam reports fatal case
In other developments, Vietnamese health officials reported their country's 16th human death caused by H5N1 avian flu, that of a 12-year-old boy. The boy became ill Mar 13 and died 2 days later, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. Officials confirmed Mar 20 that the boy, from the southern province of Tay Ninh, was a victim of the H5N1 virus, the story said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said today it had asked Vietnamese officials about the reported death but had not yet received confirmatory information. The case would be the first one reported in Vietnam since Feb 20, the WHO said.
With the latest report, Vietnam has had 23 human cases of H5N1 avian flu. Thailand, the only other country reporting human cases, has had 12 cases and 8 deaths.
A doctor in Tay Ninh, 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, said the boy suffered from a high fever and diarrhea when he was admitted to a hospital Mar 13, the AP reported. A serious lung infection developed the day after the boy was hospitalized. The report said the boy's family had eaten sick chickens about 5 days before he fell ill.
News of the Vietnamese boy's death came 2 days after officials said they planned to declare Vietnam free of the disease by the end of March, according to the AP story.
FAO, OIE say crisis isn't over
The warning about premature declarations of victory over avian flu came Mar 19 from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). "Asian countries that declare victory over avian influenza should base such statements on in-depth investigations," the agencies said in a joint statement.
The statement said the situation has improved in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, but the crisis isn't over. "In countries such as Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, further outbreaks could still flare up," the agencies warned. "The virus could spread again within and between countries. As long as the H5N1 virus is not fully under control, the potential threat to human health remains."
The two agencies offered to provide international experts to assess the epidemiologic situation. Absence of the virus should be demonstrated by "virus search" and serologic surveys, officials said. In addition, countries with vaccination programs should use unvaccinated sentinel chickens, and the movement of poultry and contaminated goods should be carefully monitored to prevent reintroduction of the virus from affected areas.
Seeming to justify authorities' concerns, an AP report today said avian flu has spread widely in Indonesia and has put stress on government resources there. Quoting FAO officials, the story said the disease has extended its range in southern Sumatra and appeared in West Kalimantan province. The disease is also suspected to have spread to Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, and West Timor, the report said.
Hans Wagner, the FAO's senior animal production officer and health officer in Bangkok, described Indonesian authorities as "stretched to the limit" by the avian flu crisis, according to the AP.
Meanwhile, the FAO reported today that Japan will provide $16 million to help Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam battle the disease. The agency said it will use the money to provide technical expertise, basic emergency equipment, and materials for disease investigation, culling operations, and cleaning and disinfection of infected sites. Poultry producers, retailers, and consumers will be the main beneficiaries, the FAO said.
World called unprepared for pandemic flu
In other recent news related to avian flu, WHO officials warned after an international meeting in Geneva last week that the world is poorly prepared for an influenza pandemic, which disease experts regard as inevitable. Experts have been concerned that the current avian flu crisis could trigger a human flu pandemic if the H5N1 virus combines with a human flu virus.
The Geneva meeting dealt with preparation for a flu pandemic. Afterward, WHO Director-General Lee Jong-Wook said the world is "unlikely to have enough drugs, vaccines, health care workers and hospital capacity" to cope well with a flu pandemic, according to a Mar 18 Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.
The story said scientists urged governments to create an international stockpile of antiviral drugs and to increase the use of the annual flu vaccine. But Teresa Tam, a Canadian health official, said it would take years to build up a stockpile for an epidemic affecting the 1.5 billion people in the Asian countries currently dealing with avian flu.
About 90% of the supply of flu vaccine is made in countries that account for only 10% of human flu cases, the AFP report said. Klaus Stohr of the WHO said the problem of dealing with this disparity triggered intense discussion.
Scientists at the meeting urged the WHO to start talking with governments and drug firms immediately about how to create an international stockpile, the story said.
Mar 22 WHO statement on Vietnamese case
Mar 19 FAO-OIE warning on the requirements for declaring victory over avian flu
Mar 22 FAO statement on Japanese funds to help countries battle avian flu