Latest cases raise WHO's avian flu tally to 161

Feb 3, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) tally of human cases of H5N1 avian influenza rose to 161, including 86 deaths, with the final confirmation of 12 cases in Turkey and one in Iraq this week.

The WHO said on Jan 30 its collaborating laboratory in Britain had confirmed 12 of the 21 cases reported so far in Turkey, including four deaths, leaving nine cases still awaiting final confirmation. Yesterday the agency announced confirmation of the first case in Iraq, that of a 15-year-old girl in the northern Kurdish region.

The WHO does not add cases to its official count until they have been confirmed by one of its collaborating labs.

In Iraq, test results from two other cases were still being awaited, the WHO said yesterday. Samples from the 15-year-old girl's uncle, who died Jan 27 after suffering an illness similar to hers, and samples from a 54-year-old woman with a respiratory illness were sent to the British lab.

The deceased girl had been exposed to sick birds, but no poultry outbreaks of avian flu had been found in the country as of yesterday, the WHO said. A team of WHO and other experts was sent to northern Iraq to investigate, but because of security problems they were not expected to arrive until next week, the agency reported.

Concerning Turkey, the WHO said the nine cases still awaiting full confirmation were still being investigated jointly by the British lab and one in Ankara, Turkey. The Ankara lab previously had confirmed the cases as H5-positive, the agency said.

Calling testing for H5N1 infection "technically challenging," the WHO said, "Additional testing in a WHO collaborating laboratory may produce inconclusive or only weakly positive results. In such cases, clinical data about the patient are used to make a final assessment."

WHO officials said today they are arranging for the shipment of thousands of doses of oseltamivir to Iraq, which has virtually none of the antiviral drug, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.

Margaret Chan of the WHO said Roche, which makes oseltamivir, offered to provide 7,000 to 10,000 doses of the drug, "and we are trying to ship them as soon as possible," the story said.

Authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan have quarantined 14 people suspected of having avian flu, and massive culling of poultry is under way in the region, AFP reported.

Elsewhere, Indonesian officials said a 15-year-old boy who died Feb 1 tested positive for avian flu in a local lab, according to a Reuters report published today. Indonesia has had 19 cases with 14 deaths so far, by the WHO's count.

Officials said it was unclear how the boy, who died in a Bandung hospital, contracted the disease, the report said. Samples were sent to a Hong Kong lab for confirmatory testing.

In Hong Kong this week, three people were isolated in a hospital after they had contact with a chicken that tested positive for the disease. The chicken died after it was smuggled in from China, AFP reported on Feb 1.

The three people, a man, his mother, and another relative, had cooked and eaten another chicken brought from China that had nested with the infected bird, according to AFP. The three had no symptoms.

Yesterday preliminary tests failed to detect avian flu in the three people, but they remained in isolation pending further test results, the Associated Press reported.

In the United States this week, a Roche official said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) signaled an intention to buy 46 million treatment courses of oseltamivir, triple the amount previously ordered, according to a Jan 31 Reuters report.

George Abercrombie, president and CEO of Hoffmann-La Roche, Roche's US unit, told a Senate hearing the company had received an HHS letter of intent to buy 46 million treatment courses, the story said.

Roche spokesman Darien Wilson told Reuters the company could deliver 26 million treatment courses this year if a contract were signed. A treatment course under current recommendations is 10 capsules.

When HHS officials released their pandemic preparedness plan last November, they announced a goal of acquiring 81 million treatment courses of oseltamivir by the summer of 2007.

See also:

Feb 2 WHO statement on Iraq situation
http://www.who.int/csr/don/2006_01_30/en/index.html

Jan 30 WHO statement on situation in Turkey
http://www.who.int/csr/don/2006_01_30/en/index.html

Jan 30 WHO statement on situation in Iraq
http://www.who.int/csr/don/2006_01_30a/en/index.html

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