Avian flu found in former Soviet republic of Georgia

Feb 24, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Georgia today reported finding H5N1 avian influenza in swans, making Georgia the 16th country to report its first case this month.

Dead swans found in the village of Adliya, in the Black Sea coastal region of Adjara, tested positive, said Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, as quoted in an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.

A laboratory in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi identified H5N1 in the birds, Nogaideli said. He said samples have been sent to London for further testing.

Georgia lies on the east side of the Black Sea and borders Turkey and Azerbaijan, which have both been hit by avian flu in recent months. Turkey has had both poultry outbreaks and human cases; Azerbaijan has found the virus in wild birds.

Countries that have reported their first H5N1 cases in birds this month, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and recent news reports, include Iraq, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Iran, Austria, Germany, Egypt, India, France, Hungary, and Slovakia.

In other developments today, France reported finding an H5 virus on a turkey farm, while the WHO said it has uncovered no evidence of human avian flu transmission between two relatives in Iraq. In addition, South Korea said four people who helped slaughter poultry during an avian flu outbreak 2 years ago have tested positive for past infection with the virus, though they were never sick.

In France, an agriculture official said turkeys on a farm in the southeastern region of Ain were infected with an H5 virus, but further tests were needed to determine if it was H5N1, according to an AFP report. If so, it will mark the first known outbreak on a farm in France. The farm is in the same area where the virus was recently found in two wild ducks.

A WHO team that recently visited Iraq to assess the avian flu situation there determined that the two Iraqis who recently died of the disease did not pass the virus between them, according to Dr. Naeema Al Gasseer, the WHO representative in Iraq.

"There is no human-to-human case in Iraq," Al Gasseer said during a teleconference from WHO headquarters in Geneva today. She was part of a team that looked into the cases of 15-year-old girl who died Jan 17 and her 39-year-old uncle, who died Jan 27.

Both victims, who were close neighbors in the northern province of Sulaimaniyah, had slaughtered, defeathered, and cooked poultry before their illnesses, Al Gasseer said.

She said another suspected human case, in Amara in southern Iraq, has been ruled out, but one suspected case is still under investigation in the province of Diyala, which is northeast of Baghdad. Iraq also has outbreaks of an H5 virus in poultry in one district of Sulaimaniyah and one in Diyala, she reported.

Al Gasseer said the Iraqi government has generally responded well to the avian flu outbreaks and human cases, with high-level officials showing openness and a strong commitment to dealing with the problem.

However, she said there was "tension" over the WHO's insistence that suspected cases be confirmed by testing at WHO reference labs before announcements are made. "There was a misconception at all levels that specimens should be tested only in Iraq," she said.

The WHO team saw the results of widespread poultry culling in Sulaimaniyah, Al Gasseer said. In driving through the region, "We barely could see villages with backyard chickens. So this was a very big change of behavior that we observed."

She noted that the WHO is concerned that families receive some compensation for their lost poultry. The agency has proposed that the Iraqi government consult with the Turkish government, which did widespread culling in recent weeks, on how to provide compensation, she said.

The four South Koreans, whose test results were received in their country yesterday according to an AFP report, had assisted in the culling of 5.3 million poultry in late 2003 and early 2004.

About 2,000 samples were collected at that time from the workers, but testing was delayed because of a shortage of facilities, said Oh Dae-Kyu, head of the health ministry's Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Of about 380 samples that were tested, 11 were suspect and so were sent to the United States. Among these were samples from the four people just reported as positive.

The remaining samples can now be processed, Dae-Kyo said, because of improved testing capacity. The people are not considered patients in official WHO counts, the AFP story says, because they had no disease symptoms. South Korea declared itself free of avian flu in December 2005.

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