Oct 19, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – New avian influenza outbreaks were reported today in European Russia, China, and Vietnam, as experts said recent outbreaks in Turkey and Romania have strengthened the suspicion that migratory birds are spreading the H5N1 virus.
In addition, avian flu was suspected in a Thai man who died of a lung infection after killing and eating chickens that might have had the disease.
In Russia, H5N1 has been found in birds south of Moscow, according to a Russian report filed with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). PCR testing found H5N1 in poultry from Jandovka village, roughly 250 kilometers south of Moscow. The outbreak apparently marks the virus's first appearance in the European part of Russia, west of the Ural Mountains.
About 3,000 birds have been destroyed, the report said. An online report by APK-Inform Information Agency said 220 birds initially died. The OIE report said the village is near a lake where migratory birds were seen a week before the die-off began.
A report on an OIE fact-finding mission to Russia said that 163,000 birds had died or been culled between July's initial outbreak and Oct 7.
In China, 2,600 poultry died at a farm in Tengjiaying village in Inner Mongolia, according to United Press International in Beijing today. A Chinese government report submitted to the OIE today said it was a highly pathogenic H5 virus, but the strain had not been fully identified. The report says that 91,100 birds were destroyed and 166,177 birds in Inner Mongolia have been vaccinated with H5N2 vaccine.
China's state-controlled news agency, Xinhua, said culling had controlled the outbreak and that there were no reports of human infections.
In Vietnam, about 110 ducks died in the southern province of Bac Lieu, according to Xinhua news agency. The flock, which totaled 300 birds before the outbreak, was culled yesterday.
In Thailand, a man from Kanchanaburi Province who was suspected of having avian flu died while being treated in a local hospital, The Nation reported online today for its Oct 20 edition. Thailand has had no confirmed human cases this year.
Physicians said Bang-orn Benpad died of a lung infection brought on by common flu, the Bangkok newspaper reported. However, family members said he fell ill after butchering several chickens on his farm that had died of apparent avian flu.
Officials at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital asked family members for permission to conduct an autopsy, but they declined, saying it was unnecessary if the official cause of death was lung infection, The Nation reported.
An Oct 19 story in The Nation said Benpad, 48, had suffered a high fever, bronchitis, and rapid deterioration of his lungs after he cooked and ate sick chickens.
Laboratory tests didn't find H5N1, the head of the medical science department at the hospital said, adding that Benpad once had tuberculosis. (The story in The Nation didn't say whether that infection had been cured.) H5N1 outbreaks in poultry continue in that region of Thailand.
The spread of H5N1 to Russia, Romania, and Turkey has reinforced the theory that migratory waterfowl are spreading the virus, an OIE spokesman told Reuters news service.
This week the OIE wrote, "The existence of known migration flyways of several bird species connecting Southeast Asia, Siberia and Europe shows a possibility of the introduction of the H5N1 virus to both eastern and western Europe." The organization recommended increasing surveillance in the Caspian Sea region.
"To assess the risk posed by migratory birds in transporting HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] it is necessary to assess and monitor occurrences of AI in key species at strategic sites and at different times during the migration and breeding cycles of the respective species," the OIE said.
More than one species may be carrying H5N1, Dr. David Swayne, director of the US Department of Agriculture's Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga., told the Canadian Press in a story published today.
"It could be several different bird species that can be infected and possibly fly far distances and shed virus and transmit the virus," he said. "It's just a matter that no one has found that species yet. The only thing they've found has been the dead birds when an outbreak has been found in wild birds."
Recent sampling in Russia and Thailand has detected the H5N1 virus in a surprising number of bird species. In Thailand it has been found in the common Eurasian tree sparrow, pigeons, and mynas, according to a story in Bernama.com, the Malaysian national news agency. The report on the OIE fact-finding mission to Russia says the virus has been found in a variety of birds there, including buzzards, coots, cormorants, garganeys, green sandpipers, oyster catchers, phalaropes, pochards, rooks, sandpipers, sparrowhawks, starlings, teal, and white-headed plovers.
"One of our major concerns is now the potential spread of avian influenza through migratory birds to North and Eastern Africa," said Dr. Joseph Domenech, the chief veterinary officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, as quoted in an International Herald Tribune story today.
If the disease reaches those areas, it could become widespread in the environment before it is even detected, he said.
Also, because people in poorer African nations live in close contact with animals, such a situation would provide plentiful opportunities for bird and human viruses to mix, increasing the risk that the avian virus could gain the ability to spread easily among humans, the story said.
"The close proximity between people and animals and insufficient surveillance and disease control capability in eastern African countries create an ideal breeding ground for the virus," Domenech said.
Chinese report to OIE