Tag Archive: Bird

‘US vaccine may be behind bird flu’



A rapid response team disposing of bird flu-infected fowls after culling them, at Bisworam Hengwju’s farm in Chittapol, Bhaktapur, on Saturday.


Tulsiram Dhukkhwa, chairman of the Poultry Farmers’ Association (Bhaktapur), said many poultry farmers in the district have complained that bird flu broke out in the district because of unauthorised use of vaccines. “Unauthorised vaccines are responsible for the bird flu outbreak in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur,” he said.

He said vaccines must have caused outbreak of bird flu in many places all at once. Dhukkhwa said powerful countries have been using poor countries like Nepal as a laboratory. “If Nepal has been used to test vaccine developed against bird flu in the USA, it is a misfortune,” he said. Dhukkhwa claimed that samples of dead birds have already reached America.

He further cautioned the government to test vaccine and medicines used in the poultry to prevent the outbreak of other diseases.

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Doctors warned to look out for new H7N9 bird flu virus

Doctors have been urged to look out for signs of a new strain of bird flu in patients, as experts warned it poses a “serious threat” that could cause a pandemic.

Five deaths from Chinese bird flu

A patient with fever receives treatment at the hospital where a 67-year-old has been diagnosed with H7N9  Photo: Reuters




Public health officials have issued an alert to GPs and health workers asking them to report any signs of influenza in people who have recently travelled from China.

The new strain, which first emerged just over a month ago, has now claimed 24 lives in China and has infected at least 126 people.

Around 11,000 British citizens travel to China each week and around 3,500 Chinese visit this country.

Experts fear that while the disease is currently only being passed from birds to humans, it is changing rapidly and could start passing directly from person to person, raising the risk of a pandemic.

Recent research has shown the virus has already acquired two of five key mutations thought to be necessary for it to become a disease that can circulate in the human population.


Dr John Watson, head of respiratory disease at Public Health England, said letters have been sent out to doctors warning them to be on the look out for signs of the disease in people travelling from China.


Dr Watson said: “We feel that it is important to take it very seriously.


“Despite the fact we have no cases here, we are taking a series of steps to prepare and we will step up our action if it moves further down the line towards becoming a worldwide threat.”


Public health authorities around the world have been placed on alert to watch for the disease spreading out of China.


Last week a man from Taiwan who had recently travelled to China fell ill with the disease.


The disease causes severe respiratory illness, blood poisoning and even organ failure that can lead to death.


Around a fifth of those infected have died while 60 per cent remain seriously ill in hospital, according to the Chinese health authorities.


Senior scientists studying the virus have been alarmed at the speed of the spread of the infection, but insisted that the current risk to people living in the UK was “very low”.


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Hundreds of birds die of starvation after spring snowstorm




Information about large numbers of dead or dying species can be reported to Colorado Parks and Wildlife by contacting the Hot Sulphur Springs office at 970-725-6200.

It is unclear whether the birds were resident birds of the area or early migrators that were traveling through the area and were caught in the recent snowstorms.

“It’s not uncommon in robin populations to have a wide up and down, it’s actually rather typical,” said District Wildlife Manager Mike Crosby. “Nature always persists.” The robin population should have no problem recovering from the incident, he said.

It is believed the recent snowfall covered the bird’s food source and caused the birds to starve.

Robins survive mostly on insects, Crosby said. And due to the snow they were not able to get to the ground to retrieve food to keep up with their energy demands and subsequently starved to death.


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Officials Fear That H7N9 Bird Flu Is Spreading From Person To Person

Jennifer Welsh | Apr. 19, 2013, 3:34 PM
beijing hospital bird flu


A nurse opens a door of a room screening people for fever at Ditan Hospital, where a child with a new strain of bird flu is undergoing treatment, in Beijing April 13, 2013.

As new cases of the bird flu H7N9 continue to pop up all over China, officials are getting more and more worried that the virus can spread between humans, or that it will soon develop the ability to spread between humans.

If it develops the ability to transfer easily from one human to another it could easily become a pandemic.

While the virus has been circulating in the bird population, and many types of birds have tested positive for it. According to the World Health Organization, researchers in China haven’t found definite evidence of how it’s transmitted to humans.

What’s the source?

There’s mounting concern about the virus’s actual origins: A number of the confirmed human cases of the new bird flu, H7N9, say they hadn’t interacted with live birds before they got sick. A Chinese official said only about 40% of the patients had tenuous connections to live birds.

Of almost 50,000 samples from poultry markets, only 39 have tested positive for the virus — a very low number according to The New York Times. They also noted that no pigs have tested positive for the virus.

It could come from birds, or from other animals, or some other environmental source, Time reports.

Will it spread between people?

There are even hints that the virus could spread from person to person, but it doesn’t seem to do it all that well yet. According to the New York Times, there are four possible instances of H7N9 spreading between people: Three families in Shanghai and one spread between two boys in Beijing.

It’s difficult to tell if family members were infected from the same original source, or if the virus passed from one to the other, WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl told The Times.

The latest study, detailed by Reuters indicates that the virus was widespread in the animal populations (not sure which) before it made the leap to humans. The genetic diversity (small changes between individual viruses) looks like a much larger outbreak, the researchers said.

“The diversity we see in these first few samples from China is as great as the diversity we have seen with a large outbreak in the Netherlands several years ago and one in Italy,” study researcher Marion Koopmans, of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, told Reuters. “This means it (the H7N9 strain in China) has been spreading quite a bit and it’s important to understand where exactly that is going on.”

That’s a bad sign not just because the virus is widespread, but the greater genetic diversity gives the virus more raw materials to work with when mutating. This could make it easier for the virus to gain the ability to pass easily between humans.

A pandemic in the making?

If it can pass between people, it makes a pandemic much more likely, especially if the virus adapts to be transmitted easier. If it becomes more virulent, multiple people could be infected at once in a populated area.

They aren’t the only ones worried about human-to-human transmission of the virus. Jason Koebler of the US News and World Report talked to WHO about the possibility:

Glenn Thomas, a spokesperson for WHO, tells U.S. News that “it’s still too early to say” whether there have been human-to-human transmission, but that the team they’ve sent there will be investigating the possibility.

“There’s no evidence yet of sustained human-to-human transmission, but the team will be looking into this,” he says.


Gene data show China bird flu mutated “under the radar”

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – The new strain of bird flu that has killed 17 people in China has been circulating widely “under the radar” and has acquired significant genetic diversity that makes it more of a threat, scientists said on Friday.

Dutch and Chinese researchers who analyzed genetic data from seven samples of the new H7N9 strain say it has already acquired similar levels of genetic diversity as much larger outbreaks of other H7 strains of flu seen previously in birds.

“The diversity we see in these first few samples from China is as great as the diversity we have seen with a large outbreak in the Netherlands several years ago and one in Italy,” said Marion Koopmans, head of virology at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, who worked on the study as part of a nine-member team.

“This means it (the H7N9 strain in China) has been spreading quite a bit and it’s important to understand where exactly that is going on.”

Its genetic diversity shows the virus has an ability to mutate repeatedly and is likely to continue doing so, raising the risk that it may become transmissible among humans.

Koopmans, whose research was published in the online journal Eurosurveillance, said the circulation would probably have taken place in either birds or mammals, but said exactly which animals were involved was not yet clear.

“Simply the fact that this virus is spreading under the radar – because that is what this data confirms – is of concern,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The H7N9 virus is so far known to have infected 87 people in China, killing 17 of them. Health officials raised further questions on Friday about the source of the new strain after data indicated that more than half of patients had had no contact with poultry.


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U.S. Hospitals Told to Be on Lookout for H7N9 Bird Flu

Hospitals in U.S. Told by CDC to Be on Lookout for H7N9 Bird Flu

Hospitals in U.S. Told by CDC to Be on Lookout for H7N9 Bird Flu

ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Doctors wearing protective clothing work at the First Affiliated Hospital of College of Medicine of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. China has recorded 92 human infections of the H7N9 strain of bird flu, with 17 of the cases fatal, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from national and provincial governments and the World Health Organization.

U.S. hospitals are being urged to head off a spread of the new H7N9 avian influenza by looking out for people exhibiting flu-like symptoms who have traveled to China or had contact with someone who has the illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a conference call with health-care professionals yesterday to review procedures for treating bird-flu patients and controlling infections, Erin Burns, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e- mail. The Atlanta-based agency today issued interim guidance on the use of antiviral agents to treat H7N9 infections.

Issuing the guidance and holding the clinician calls “would be considered routine preparedness measures for an outbreak with pandemic potential,” Burns said.

China has recorded 92 human infections of the H7N9 strain of bird flu, with 17 of the cases fatal, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from national and provincial governments and the World Health Organization. The source of the infection hasn’t been identified and there is no evidence of person-to- person transmission, with many of the cases involving human contact with poultry, according to the CDC’s website.

There haven’t been any cases reported in the U.S. and sustained person-to-person spread is needed for a pandemic to occur. The H7N9 virus is novel and has the potential to cause a pandemic if it were to change and spread through human-to-human contact, CDC said.


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Earth Watch Report  –  Biological Hazards



New bird flu kills 8 in China

Eight people have died and 28 confirmed infected with a new type of bird flu in eastern China, the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday. But officials say China’s come a long way in watching for and controlling new disease outbreaks.

Chinese authorities are rushing to test patients with respiratory illness to see how far the new H7N9 bird flu has spread. They’re also starting culls of chickens and other birds, which are suspected of spreading the infection, and have closed some live bird markets.

The new strain of flu — never before seen to cause serious illness in people — appears to have first started making people ill in February. Chinese authorites announced  the first cases in March.

Flu occasionally passes from animals to people, and most experts believe that new pandemics of influenza have originated in animals – most likely pigs, but also possibly chickens and ducks. Dr. Arnold Monto, an expert on influenza and other infectious diseases at the University of Michigan, notes that several cases were reported last summer of people infected with a strain of flu called H3N2 from pigs at state fairs.

One woman died but the flu did not spread widely.

“What is going on in China is a little scarier,” Monto told NBC News. “The reason it is a little scarier is that it seems to be causing severe disease.”


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Shanghai stops poultry trade on bird flu fears

by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) April 6, 2013


The commercial hub has had six of the country’s 16 confirmed cases of the H7N9 strain, found in humans for the first time, with four deaths. The other two fatalities have been in the neighbouring province of Zhejiang.

Shanghai had culled more than 20,500 birds at an agricultural market in a western suburb by Friday, after the virus was found in pigeons, and the government announced a ban on live poultry trading and markets.

A uniformed worker sprayed disinfectant from a tank on his back at one local market in central Shanghai Saturday, where two booths selling live poultry were dark, and cages empty.

“All trading has stopped because of bird flu. The seller has gone home because he has nothing to do,” said a seafood vendor.


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Earth Watch Report  –  Epidemic Hazards



Second bird flu patient dies in Guizhou


By Michael Evans



A 31 year old man died Friday after having contracted H5N1 bird flu earlier this month, according to authorities in Guizhou. The website of the province’s health department said the man, who developed symptoms of the virus February 3, died of multiple organ failure.

This is the second bird flu death in Guizhou in less than two weeks, coming after a 21 year old woman died February 13. Health officials have found no connection between the two cases, and the two are reported to have come into close contact with birds.

Experts have long feared that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a strain transmissible between humans, as opposed to the current form which can only be contracted directly from birds. However there seems to be little risk that the virus has spread beyond the two cases in Guizhou, as Xinhua reports that over a hundred people who had been in contact with the patients have been released from quarantine after showing no symptoms of bird flu.

Earth Watch Report  –  Extreme Weather


Thu, 24 Jan 2013 11:52 CST

Budgerigars drop dead in the heat in Western Australia

Heat waves can be deadly for birds

As the heat wave in Australia continues, many birds may no longer be able to take the heat and large numbers could die as a result, researchers at the Universities of Cape Town and Pretoria warn.

“Heat waves in 2009 and 2010, which did not reach the intensity of the current record-breaking heat wave, led to large die-offs of birds in parts of Australia” says Prof. Andrew McKechnie. Over the last few days, people are beginning to report finding dead birds in their backyards on Twitter. Conditions are likely worsening as the heat wave wears on.

An international research team, led by researchers at the Percy FitzPatrick Instutute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, are investigating how heat waves affect the physiology and behaviour of birds. They are on high alert for reports of impacts of the current Australian heat wave as such events will be valuable for predicting how climate change will affect birds.


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by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of NaturalNews.com

(NaturalNews) Raising chickens is smart. It provides you a healthy supply of food in the form of chicken eggs, and you’ll even have a source of emergency meat if times get really bad.

Chickens largely take care of themselves. They’re friendly, curious and smart enough to come running when you call them. They’ll devour scorpions, ticks, crickets, and even the occasional small lizard, removing all sorts of insect pests from your property.

I’ve been raising chickens for several years now, both in South America and in Central Texas, and I’d like to pass along what I’ve learned so that you can raise healthy chickens, too!

The secret to avoiding disease: Nutrition and oregano

To keep your chickens healthy, you’ve got to feed them trace minerals. They need strong nutrition to fight off infectious disease. Because they’re literally cooped up during the night, chickens are especially susceptible to diseases that spread easily from one chicken to the next, so you’ve got to keep their immune systems in high gear.

I feed my chickens an organic feed recipe made with things like sea kelp, ground-up crab shells, whole grains and supplemental vitamins and minerals. It’s very nutrient dense.

On top of that, I put a dropper full of oregano oil extract into their water each day. My experience is that chickens who are raised on oregano are far more resistant to disease than chickens without oregano. Oregano replaces antibiotics in chickens, it seems, at least in my experience. I’ve never had to resort to using antibiotics.

I lost several chickens along the way while trying to figure this out. I discovered that colloidal silver in their water didn’t do much, at least not for the Avian Pox disease that some of my chickens caught. (Yeah, chicken pox, literally!)


I am absolutely convinced that chickens need sunlight to stay healthy. My chickens will often lie down on one side and extend one wing in order to allow sunlight to penetrate all the way into (and underneath) that wing. This seems to be a king of “sunning therapy” that chickens pursue by instinct.

If you keep chickens in an artificial indoor environment, you will only encourage the spread of disease, the growth of fungus, and will end up raising weaker chickens with weak immune systems. Sunlight makes chickens stronger, so the more your chickens can get outdoors and run around in the real world, the healthier, happier and more productive they will be.

Cold and wind

A lot of people who are new to raising chickens make the mistake of trying to keep them artificially warm during cold winter nights. As long as you keep chickens out of the wind, they can stay warm on their own, usually with just the help of some cracked corn in the evening. (Food equals warmth when it comes to chickens.)

Birds and ducks do just fine in freezing weather during the winters, have you noticed? So why would chickens need special heaters? Unless you’re living in the frigid north, you don’t need to provide supplemental heat to adult chickens, even in freezing weather.

Baby chicks, of course, will freeze to death very easily, even in mildly cold weather, so you’ve got to keep them warm. But adult chickens are well equipped with their own insulation. The important thing is to keep them out of the wind. That’s why you’ll need a wind-proof chicken coop so that the wind doesn’t sap the warmth out of them during a cold winter’s night.

Chicken breeds

I’ve raised all the following breeds of chickens, and here are my comments about each one:

• Golden Sex Link – Weak immune systems. Not a very hardy breed. Easily bullied by other breeds. Not recommended.

• Americana – Moody and strange. Sometimes anti-social. Beautiful show birds, but not the kind of “utilitarian” birds you really want on a working farm for producing food.

• Leghorn – Great egg layer, not very trusting of people, however. You’ll have trouble catching these birds.

• Delaware (white) – Great hybrid bird for creating eggs and meat, but not the best at either one. They get quite large compared to other breeds, and they have strong appetites. One major drawback to these birds is that they are pure white, making them easy for predators to spot from long distances. More natural-colored birds blend in better with the terrain.

• Barred Rock – I like these birds, they’re easy to handle, fairly productive and seem to be a hardy breed. This is my second-favorite breed.

• Rhode Island Red – By far the strongest survivors of all these breeds, Rhode Island Reds are very close to a perfect breed of farm chicken in my opinion. They’re also relatively friendly and easy to handle. During the spring and summer, my Rhode Island hens are laying 6 – 7 eggs per week, each!

Overall, if you’re new to chickens and you’re looking for the best breed, go with Rhode Island Reds. They’re fantastic layers.

Protecting chickens from predators

Everything in the world wants to eat your chickens. To the wild animals living in the country, your chickens are like walking Happy Meals, just ready to be devoured. So the first thing you need to realize about keeping your chickens alive is that you’ll have to protect them from predators.

If you live in a suburb or a city, you might not have very many natural predators, but if you live out in the country, you’ll attract all sorts of them. To effectively protect your chickens from predators, you’ll need to own, at minimum, one shotgun and one rifle and know how to use them.

Here’s what they’ll be facing (and how to deal with it):

Snakes. When your chicks are small, they’re bite-sized snacks for all sorts of snakes. You’ll need to keep your chicks in a snake-proof cage at night (that’s when snakes hunt). You can also expect to lose a fair number of chicken eggs to non-venomous snakes during the day.

How to deal with snakes? You can lay down some snake repellant made out of cedar wood, but that stuff only lasts a couple of weeks before losing its potency. Here’s my strategy: If it’s a rattlesnake, shoot it and throw it to the birds of prey (far from your chickens, of course). If it’s not a rattlesnake, capture it with a snake grabber (be careful, obviously), drive it at least a mile away, and release it there. Try not to release it in your neighbor’s farm, as that would be rude.

Owls. Owls are vicious, silent night hunters. They can devour fully-grown chickens. Fortunately, owls only hunt at night, so locking your chickens up in an owl-proof coop or cage takes care of that. But if you forget to close the coop, you can fully expect to lose chickens during the night.

Feral cats. Cats love to attack your chickens, just for the fun of it, it seems. Dealing with cats is up to you, but if it’s a domestic cat, I suggest you try to capture it and return it to its owner. I have a “three strikes and you’re out” policy when dealing with cats that attack my chickens. The cat and its owner gets three warnings. After the third attack, the cat gets 62 grains of lead traveling at 2900 fps. Again, people who have never lived in the country can’t imagine this because they’ve never experienced the real world, but out in the country you sometimes have to choose between keeping your chickens alive or shooting a feral animal that’s trying to kill them. This is why every rancher needs an AR-15 or some other rifle (Mini-14, Ruger 10-22, etc.) to take care of persistent predators.

Coyotes. Coyotes would love to eat your chickens if only they could reach them. Fortunately, coyotes are scared of humans, so if your chickens are close enough to your house (and well protected at night), coyotes shouldn’t be able to threaten them. On the rare occasions that coyotes have ventured to within eyesight of my chickens, I’ve simply grabbed my AR-15, fired a single shot in their general direction, and watched them scatter. Coyotes are smart animals and seem to learn from warning shots. (I don’t have experience with foxes so can’t speak about them.)

Raccoons. If you raise chicken with raccoons anywhere around, you will have to deal with raccoons. They can smell chickens a mile away, it seems. I am very reluctant to shoot raccoons and have tried everything imaginable to scare them away without killing them. I’ve hit them with slingshots, tried to scare them with shotgun blasts, and even tried to get my dog to scare them away. So far, the results have been less than ideal. Roxy has killed two or three raccoons already, usually after loud and spectacular battles that left Roxy bloodied more than once. I’ve personally avoided killing at least half a dozen other raccoons that I could have easily shot. Instead, I’ve invested in raccoon traps that cage the animals without harming them. You can then cart them off to a distant location and release them there.

Warning: Be sure to wear very thick leather gloves when handling caged raccoons. They can reach right through the bars of most rodent cages and rip your hand to shreds with their razor-sharp claws.

Hawks and falcons. It wasn’t too long ago that a large falcon — complete with a shrieking falcon cry — tried to eat one of my chickens just a hundred yards from where I’m writing this. I heard a terrible chicken cry, rushed outside to see what was going on, and saw a falcon flying away from one of my chickens, which was still barely alive. Upon inspection, the chicken turned out to be mortally wounded and missing a large part of its chest, so I did the moral thing and put it out of its misery with a couple of shots from my Benelli 12 gauge. I cursed the falcon, blessed the chicken, and made up my mind to mount a 20 gauge Remington on my farm ATV so that I could better defend my chickens in the future.

Are you shocked to read all this? Raising free-range chickens in the country requires a high level of vigilance against predators. Sure, you can raise chickens in a chicken factory without worrying about any of these things, but I want my chickens to eat weeds, bugs and wild foods. I want them to be happy, running around the farm, enjoying their lives while they provide me with eggs. So I refuse to coop them up in an artificial environment, and that means I have to take precautions to protect them from predators.

The good news in this is that all the practice with rifles and shotguns keeps me in top form with firearms — essential tools for living in the country. Like most ranchers and farmers, I now consider it fairly easy to hit a 10″ target at 300 yards, even with a semi-auto battle rifle that isn’t really very accurate compared to bolt-action hunting rifles. It pains me to actually have to shoot something with them, however, so I tend to use guns only as a last resort.

Chicken coops

Whatever chicken coops you decide to use, make sure the bottoms are protected, too. Raccoons and other animals will actually dig underneath the walls of your coop to get inside and steal some chickens.

You’ll also need to clean out your chicken coops from time to time, and this is really one of the great “joys” of owning chickens: raking or shoveling poop by the bucket-load. Chickens are messy, and they produce a lot of poop and dropped feathers. So throw on a pair of gloves and a respirator, and get to it! Somebody’s gotta clean up all the s%*# around the farm, and the sooner you get the job done, the happier (and healthier) your chickens will be.

Make sure your coops can receive some direct sunlight inside by propping open the doors or windows. Sunlight helps prevent mold and fungus from growing inside your coop.

Processing chickens

This is where my experience with chickens comes to a grinding halt. I have absolutely no experience “processing” chickens for food, and I’m not even sure I ever want to do that. For me, it would take a serious global food crisis to get me to start butchering my own chickens, and even then I would first try to barter something with somebody else first. Yes, I’d rather eat somebody else’s chickens than my own!

Fortunately, I’ve stored away a sufficient supply of ranching ammo to barter my way into almost any kind of food I might need in the future. I consider my chickens to be part of the worker team here on the ranch, not a source of food.


ImageSource                                              ImageSource

Global Flu Pandemic ‘Inevitable,’ Expert Warns


A new global flu pandemic within the next couple years is inevitable, one prominent flu vaccine manufacturer says.

Joseph Kim, head of Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which is currently working on a “universal” flu vaccine that would protect against most strains of the virus, says the world is due for a massive bird flu outbreak that could be much deadlier than the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

“I really believe we were lucky in 2009 [with the swine flu] because the strain that won out was not particularly lethal,” he says. “Bird flu kills over 60 percent of people that it infects, regardless of health or age. It is a phenomenal killing machine—our only saving grace thus far is the virus has not yet jumped to humans.”


Fears about the possibility of an H5N1 avian flu pandemic first surfaced in the mid 2000s—since then, it has infected more than 600 people, killing more than 350 of them, mostly in southeast Asia. The global toll thus far has been mild because the disease can only be transmitted from bird to bird and from bird to human. But experts fear that a few simple mutations in the virus could make it transmissible from human to human.

Last year, Ron Fouchier, a dutch flu researcher, genetically modified a strain of H5N1 so that it was transmissible between ferrets, which are often used to test human-to-human transmissibility. At the time, Fouchier said he had created “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make.” Paul Keim, a geneticist with the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, echoed that sentiment: “I can’t think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one,” he said. “I don’t think anthrax is scary at all compared to this.”

The discovery led the World Health Organization to call for a moratorium on laboratory-modified H5N1 research and recognize “that research on naturally-occurring H5N1 influenza virus must continue to protect public health.”


Kim says that if a deadlier version of H5N1 is going to emerge naturally, it will probably come from southeast Asia, where there are large pig, human, and bird populations. If a pandemic were to occur, the virus would likely be passed from birds to pigs, where it would mutate, and then from pigs to humans, he says.

“If I was a betting man, I’d say Southeast Asia,” he says. “The last few pandemics have come from that area—you have a huge pig population, a humid climate, and a proximity of many birds, ducks, and geese.”


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Man-made super-flu could kill half humanity


Avian influenza virus, TEM (NIBSC/Science Photo Library)

Avian influenza virus, TEM (NIBSC/Science Photo Library)

A virus with the potential to kill up to half the world’s population has been made in a lab. Now academics and bioterrorism experts are arguing over whether to publish the recipe, and whether the research should have been done in the first place.

­The virus is an H5N1 bird flu strain which was genetically altered to become much more contagious. It was created by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who first presented his work to the public at an influenza conference in Malta in September.

Fouchier said the strain circulates in animals, particularly birds, but rarely affects humans.
In the ten or so years since bird flu first emerged in Asia, fewer than 600 cases have been reported in humans. But the H5N1 strain is particularly vicious, killing roughly half of patients diagnosed with it. What stops it from becoming a major threat to public health is that it does not readily transmit from human to human. Or at least it didn’t – until now.

Researchers in Fouchier’s team used ferrets – test animals which closely mimic the human response to influenza – and transmitted H5N1 from one to another to make it more adaptable to new hosts. After 10 generations, the virus had mutated to become airborne, which means ferrets became ill from merely being near other diseased animals.

A genetic study showed that the new, dangerous strain had only five mutations compared to the original one, and all of them were earlier seen in the natural environment – just not all at once. Fouchier’s strain is as contagious as the human seasonal flu, which kills tens of thousands of people each year, but is likely to cause many more fatalities if released.


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