Tests confirm H5N1 in Turkey, H5 in Romania

Oct 13, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The avian influenza virus long established in Southeast Asia has reached Europe's doorstep, with confirmation today that a lethal virus in Turkey is H5N1 and that an H5 strain in Romania is still being subtyped.

"We can now say that it was definitely the H5N1 virus (in Turkey)," said Dr. Samuel Jutzi, director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) animal production and health division in Rome in the International Herald Tribune. He also suggested that the tests being conducted on Romanian samples would identify the same virus, despite earlier conflicting reports.

Turkish authorities report having culled about 8,600 turkeys following the deaths of about 1,800 on a farm near Balikesir, according to the Associated Press (AP). A triple ring of checkpoints around the city are being run by paramilitary police officers instructed to warn people against touching or transporting winged animals, the story added.

Turan Bulgaz, a Turkish health official, said the country had placed a new order for oseltamivir in case of a human pandemic, but added that the country already has about 60,000 boxes of the drug available in Turkish pharmacies.

The impact on Turkey's poultry industry began even before today's official confirmation of the virus, with the European Union on Oct 11 banning the import of live birds and feathers from Turkey, the AP noted. Regional neighbors Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Poland, Ukraine and Serbia-Montenegro also banned poultry imports.

In Romania, people reacting to news of the poultry outbreak lined up for vaccination against the common flu, and in Bucharest people emptied pharmacy shelves of flu remedies, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

The Romanian health ministry said it would buy 5,000 doses of antiviral drugs and asked the World Health Organization (WHO) for help. WHO is willing to give Romania 1,000 doses "of the vaccine," according to a statement AFP cited from the Romanian health ministry. However, it is more likely the doses are a reference to the antivirals oseltamivir or zanamivir, because no human vaccine for H5N1 has yet been approved.

Final labs results on the subtype in the Romanian poultry deaths are expected Friday, Reuters reported. No human cases of H5N1 infection have been reported in either country, but the continent was preparing for the possibility.

Nonetheless, concerns about the presence of avian flu in Europe prompted Serbians to buy thousands of face masks and Germans to demand antivirals from their pharmacists, the agency reported.

The European Medicines Agency announced today that it could fast-track any effective human vaccine against avian flu for approval within days, Reuters news service reported.

The European Commission was proposing to set aside up to $1.2 billion to manufacture and distribute vaccines and drugs in the event of a human pandemic, said Markos Kyprianu, the European Union health commissioner, in the Herald Tribune story.

Meanwhile, Iran yesterday issued an emergency report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) alerting the organization to the fact that some 3,673 wild ducks have died at Poldasht in West Azerbaijan province. The deaths began Oct 2. No disease has been identified yet, but the high mortality in waterfowl prompted the report by Dr. Mansour Sayari, leader of Iran's Veterinary Organization, in the Ministry of Jihad-e-Agriculture in Tehran. Control measures include quarantine, control of movement within the country, screening, zoning and disinfection of affected areas, the report added. A reference to negative lab tests fails to clarify what disease was absent, and OIE notes it is seeking further details from Iran.

Other countries facing avian flu outbreaks have also received a financial boost this week. Australia gave Indonesia another $7.5 million (US), AFP reported today. The funding will help the country improve detection, diagnosis, and containment of the virus, raise public awareness and share information, said Australian Minister Alexander Downer in Indonesia. Australian experts have determined they can help Indonesia create outbreak investigation teams, train epidemiologists, improve labs, and educate the public, he added.

Indonesia has had five WHO-confirmed human cases of H5N1 infections, and another patient suspected of having the virus died in Jakarta yesterday, Reuters reported.

The United States has announced it will give Laos $3.4 million in aid against H5N1, including cash for up to 10 rapid-response teams, Reuters reported today.

Also in the United States, experts on Wednesday called for a top US official to prepare the nation for a possible human flu pandemic, Reuters noted in a separate story.

"We need to make sure that in the federal government we have clear leadership," said Jeffrey Levi of the nonprofit Trust For America's Health, which earlier this year issued a report detailing a lack of preparedness in the United States.

Dr. Tara O'Toole, director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Baltimore, called the pandemic threat "a special situation."

"What we are talking about is not just another health issue—it is a nation-busting issue," O'Toole said.

See also:

Iran's report to OIE: http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/10/0cc47f9f-5784-492a-bea2-9e934e632411.html

Oct 13 WHO statement
http://www.who.int/csr/don/2005_10_13/en/index.html

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