Thursday, March 24, 2011

Waiting for the Bird Flu to take flight

Bird Flu is one of those stories that just does not go away.  The fear is that a mutant no-resistance virus will make the jump to the human population.  People can currently get the virus and have a very low resistance. , but it is not as contagious as various extant versions of the flue that we frequently get.
I thought I would start here as a prelude to a book review of Jakarta Pandemic, an e-book by Steven Konkoly, that deals with a contagious outbreak of the flue.
In Bed with Bird Flu, David Wilson, Ninemsn Travel, Date?.

Mystery killer illness

Health officials are investigating the deaths of 22 people from an unidentified illness characterized by high fever over a two-month period in the capital Jakarta. Samples from the patients have been sent to the US Naval Medical Research Unit 2 in Jakarta, but the cause of death remained a mystery, said Nyoman Kandun, a senior health ministry official. "We have not been able to conclude if this is or is not a new emerging disease," Kandun told reporters on Wednesday. "But after experiencing both bird flu and SARS we do not want to take any chances," he said. Taipei Times Feb 29, 2006.
Tangerang hospital treats possible avian flu patient

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 11/02/2010 6:14 PM | Jakarta
An 8-year-old boy from Cipadu Jaya in Tangerang who was suspected of having contracted the avian flu virus was being treated at Tangerang General Hospital, on Tuesday.

“His condition is getting worse, but we are still waiting for test results,” Tangerang General Hospital disease control chief Dr. Ati Pramudji said Tuesday, as reported by

Ati said the boy had been given Tamiflu, and had been ill for a week.

“The patient had no reported contact with fowl and there were no dead fowl near his residence,” Ati said.

There have been two suspected avian flu patients in Tangerang this year.
The Jakarta Post, November 2, 2010.

Five things you didn't know about bird flu
1.      Bird flu occurs naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the virus in their intestines — usually without experiencing symptoms. Still, bird flu is highly contagious among birds and can make some domesticated kinds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, sicken or drop dead.
2.      The first reported bird flu case surfaced in May 1997. It infected 18 and killed six patients in Hong Kong. The victims had been in close contact with infected poultry. To stop further spread, the authorities slaughtered Hong Kong poultry.
3.      The epidemic's epicentre appears to be Asia. More than 60 percent of reported cases there have been fatal.
4.      The virus is spread through contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces. Risk of infection from humans is low.
5.      Research suggests that human flu drugs can be effective in treating H5N1, if given quickly. You have to get onto it fast.

World tour
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), beyond Asia — the bird flu hot spot — cases have been detected in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Bird flu apparently afflicts 16 countries.
You can bet that, among them and beyond many cases go unreported. After all, any hospital so bold as to tell the world that it has a H5N1 outbreak might spark a regional panic.
No cure
Alarm is understandable. The reason: although a bird flu vaccine is under development, none has materialised yet. Whether a vaccine will ever emerge any more than a cure for cancer or AIDS is anyone's guess.
Palpably, H5N1 symptoms are hellish: worthy of a medieval black death-style plague. They range from violent vomiting to blurred vision, ringing ears, giddiness and pounding headaches.
Game over
But the bug's most unnerving aspect must be its ruthless streak. Across the board, the death rate is higher than 50 percent.
Of the 170 cases confirmed in Indonesia, no less than 141 have been fatal. In Vietnam, the picture is little better. There, of a confirmed total of 117 cases, 59 have resulted in death. Awful odds, if you catch the disease.
Three weeks from the onset of sickness, the bird flu victim struck down in the Thai valley village is on a cocktail of drugs with sci-fi names: the antiviral oseltamivir, the cough reliever ropect and the bacteria-buster cefaclor. Abetted by impromptu paracetamol doses, the prescribed medication may be helping.
That said, the patient still cannot eat without later vomiting in agonised wrenching spasms. She is reduced to living on fluids — fruit juice, mostly. Bird flu may still pose a threat to her future.

The Asian plague that never went away
The story begins with a romantic weekend trip to the Thai valley village of Pai. A month ago, this reporter took his normally resilient significant other there, only for her to be pole-axed by sickness.
She descended into a spiral of vomiting and was later clinically diagnosed with H5N1. That is, bird flu: the deadly virus that triggered a wave of fear several years back before fizzling out with a half-hearted squawk. Or did it?
Spasmodically, reports of H5N1-caused deaths still surface.
Indonesia's Ministry of Health recently announced two new cases. In the first, a 35-year-old man from West Jakarta, who developed symptoms on August 16 was spirited to hospital four days later and died on August 27. Investigations into the source of his infection suggested a number of sudden chicken deaths happened around the victim's house a week before onset.
In the second case, a 40-year-old female from West Java Province developed symptoms on September 9, was hospitalised on September 12 and died even faster than the Jakarta victim — on September 17.
Some reports suggest that, to catch bird flu, you need to be knee-deep in bird crap. Not so. Researchers have found that the virus persists on cold surfaces. Think glass, wood, galvanised metal, even topsoil.
Although not all that catchy among people, the virus clearly gets around.

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