Asian nations work on pandemic planning, halting avian flu

Dec 10, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Southeast Asian nations are mounting a two-tiered attack on the avian influenza virus that has devastated poultry flocks and raised the specter of a potential human flu pandemic.

On the pandemic front, scientific advances and policy efforts are laying the groundwork for preparedness in Hong Kong and mainland China.

On the avian flu front, Vietnam is using tools ranging from leaflets to waste bags to help farmers combat the H5N1 virus, while the Philippines is enlisting businesses in efforts to keep the virus out.

Rapid tests and pandemic plans
Doctors may be able to tell if their patients have avian flu within 2 hours by using a quick test that was announced this week. Current tests take about 3 days to yield results.

The kit is the creation of a team of microbiologists from the Joint Influenza Research Centre of Shantou University Medical College, the University of Hong Kong, and Xiamen University, all in China, according to a Dec 8 story by Xinhua, the Chinese state news service. The test is 90% accurate, head researcher Guan Yi of the University of Hong Kong told the news service.

The kits can use nose secretions, stool samples, and blood serum, Xinhua reported. The test is simple enough for non-specialists to use at the scene of an outbreak, according to a Dec 8 Associated Press (AP) story.

The H5N1 rapid test likely would be included in the pandemic plans being drafted in Hong Kong and China.

Hong Kong is relying on its experience with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in developing its contingency plan, according to a Dec 8 report in the China Daily online newspaper. The plan has three levels, starting with heightened surveillance and travel warnings with the advent of a confirmed human case outside of Hong Kong. The plan progresses to culling poultry, hospitalizing farm workers with symptoms, and designating hospitals to handle flu if a human case is confirmed in Hong Kong but there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission.

In case of person-to-person human transmission, Hong Kong would tighten rules for travelers from affected areas, trace contacts, and enforce quarantines, the story said.

China’s plan is based on a scenario in which a quarter of its roughly 1.3 billion citizens are infected, according to a story today in the Melbourne, Australia, newspaper The Age.

The plan has not been published, noted a Dec 6 online story in the British newspaper The Times. Localized outbreak response relies on limiting travel to prevent the spread of illness across the vast country. The plan includes emergency steps to meet people’s basic needs.

In the event of a pandemic, stronger action would be taken, The Times reported. Possibilities include designating sites for mass graves, setting up emergency food depots, and using vehicle-mounted loudspeakers to tell people about food supplies, on the assumption that electricity or access to media would be curtailed.

Vietnam and the Philippines fight avian flu
Vietnam is emphasizing education and preparation in its long battle against avian flu.

Officials involved in prevention in southern provinces have passed out 550,00 leaflets, 1,500 handbooks, 10,000 dressing gowns, 25,000 waste bags, and 92 vermifuge sprayers, the Vietnam News Agency reported on Dec 8. In addition, about 57,000 animal breeders have attended training sessions on avian flu.

Avian flu and the efforts to control it have destroyed about 36 million birds, or about 14% of the country's flocks, according to a Dec 8 story by the Asia Intelligence Wire. The statistics were released this week at a national conference on preventing and controlling the disease.

The conference addressed varied efforts, from education and hygiene to transportation, importing birds, and building slaughterhouses, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

In one case in which prevention failed, punishment was used. Authorities fined a farmer for selling chickens infected with H5N1 in Hanoi at the beginning of December, the AP reported. Tran Van Dung must pay US $190 for selling the chickens at a market last summer, authorities ruled.

In the Philippines, private businesses have agreed to help prevent avian fly by “adopting” particular areas, where they will educate people about the disease and take steps such as installing footbaths at airports, according to a story yesterday from Today online ( Surveillance of 20 key areas in the Philippines continues, although the country remains free of avian flu.

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