Saturday, October 8, 2011

Nearly 2,000 birds die at private lake in Nevada

An avian botulism outbreak has resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 ducks and other birds at a private hunting lake near two of Nevada's most important wetlands for birds.
The die-off has occurred since late August at Six Man Club, a private lake near both the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and the state-run Carson Lake and Pasture, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal (
The two wetlands, located around Fallon about 60 miles east of Reno, are major stops on the Pacific Flyway for a wide variety of migrating birds.
Although birds frequently fly between the three bodies of water, officials say the outbreak has not spread to Stillwater or Carson Lake. An abundance of fresh water in Stillwater and Carson Lake could help prevent its spread there, they said.
"It's pretty much contained. It's the water itself that has it," said Susan Sawyer, Stillwater's visitor services manager.
The number of bacteria-killed birds has been on a steady rise since late August and could make 2011 one of the 10 worst years for botulism outbreaks since state records started in 1949.
"It's starting to get a bit out of control," said Russell Woolstenhulme, a migratory game bird specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Crews fished 398 dead birds out of the lake on Wednesday and another 344 on Thursday. As of Friday, 1,942 birds had died.
Among affected birds are mallards, green-wing teals, redhead ducks, American avocets and white-faced ibis.
Avian botulism, which poses no threat to humans, becomes prevalent in water bodies with low oxygen levels typically associated with decaying vegetation.
By removing dead birds from the lake, biologists hope to end the outbreak soon.
Woolstenhulme said he does not expect the outbreak to pose any real serious threat to the overall bird population, now at a peak with the arrival of migratory birds

Sheep among many suspects in farm Listeria probe

Jumat, 7 Oktober 2011 Friday, October 7, 2011

foto : bd/ant photo: bd / ant

(Be (Regional News - Denpasar) Two of the Bali Provincial Animal Husbandry Department officials took samples of chicken manure on the market of Badung, Denpasar, Bali, on Friday (07/10/2011). Examination was conducted in a number of traditional markets to determine the possible spread of bird flu virus (H5N1), which can be triggered by changes in weather like this lately.

New England seal deaths happened before, biologist says

Seals bask on small rock islands in the sun in the Bay of Fundy between Eastport and Campobello Island in August 2011.
Seals bask on small rock islands in the sun in the Bay of Fundy between Eastport and Campobello
Posted Oct. 08, 2011, at 11:25 a.m.
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — As authorities wait for answers in the deaths of dozens of seals found on beaches in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, there has been discussion about a similar event that happened from 1979-1980.
Marine biologist Scott Mercer of York, Maine, tells the Portsmouth Herald that many dead seals that washed ashore at the time had a strain of avian, or bird, flu.
A spokesman for the New England Aquarium in Boston says there’s no information showing bird flu could be to blame for the 49 seal deaths recently reported in the three states.
Tony LaCasse says only pups are dying this year, which was not the case 30 years ago.
He says it will likely be late next week before results are in on necropsies performed on the animals.
Update Bird Flu Case

Be Based on the results of the Laboratory Center for Biomedical Research and Technology Ministry of Health Basic Health Organization, GA (P, 1.1 years) resident of West Jakarta has tested positive for bird flu (H5N1).
Pasien merasakan  Patients treated at referral hospitals of Avian Influenza in Jakarta on August 23, 2011 and get the handling of cases in accordance with standard guidelines, but patients are not helped and died on August 25, 2011.

Based on epidemiological investigation into the patient's house and the surrounding environment by Kemenkes Team and the local health office, obtained a number of possible risk factors. Penderita  Patients living in the neighborhood residents who raise poultry (chicken), but it's at home catering business there are people who use the materials processed chicken meat.

Dire Director General of Disease Control and Environmental Health as the focal point Prof.dr.TjandraYoga Aditama IHR (International Health Regulations) have been well informed about the case to the WHO.

Since January..
Dr M Jamil Padang Patient 55 Patient Suspect Bird Flu
Saturday, October 8, 2011 20:51 AM

ANTARA/Agus Bebeng/ip
BETWEEN / Agus Bebeng / ip

PADANG - MICOM: General Hospital Center (Dr) M Djamil Padang, West Sumatra, treating 55 patients suspect bird flu or H5N1 virus (avian influenza).

"From January to September 2011, bird flu susfect patients who underwent treatment in hospital continue to grow," said Dr M Djamil PR Gustavianof at Padang Padang, Saturday (9 / 10).

According to him, suspect bird flu patients who underwent treatment at the hospital was dominated by citizens of the city of Padang, which is about 30 people. "But there are also patients from outside the city of Padang, which Dharmasyara, South Coastal District, and Bukittinggi," he said.

The number of patients undergoing treatment in hospital M Jamil, he said, engalami improvement when compared with 2010.Based on the data, it has been dealing with hospital patients
suspect flu burung sejak 2009.
"In 2009 there were nine cases, whereas in 2010 as many as seven cases, one patient died while undergoing treatment," said Gustavianof.

He said the supply of medication at Dr M Djamil taminflu still pretty. "Stock of drugs available today are still able to treat patients infected with H1N1 or influenza A virus was sufficient and has not expired," he said.

Siblings postive for bird flu in Bali

- General Hospital (Dr) Sanglah, Denpasar, Bali, stating that the center of care in isolation rooms Nusa Indah two patients were sisters from Bangli Rege bird flu on Saturday (10/08/2011 ).
Both patients treated since Friday (7 / 10) afternoon in alarming condition, so that immed laboratory tests by a team of doctors Sanglah Hospital.
Both were also awaiting test results of blood samples from the Laboratory Center of Resea
Development Department of Health (MOH Balitbang) RI and the Medical Faculty Udayana U
Two Unexpected Boy Bird Flu Still in Hospital Sanglah

Saturday, October 8, 2011 15:42 AM

Comments: 0
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DENPASAR - MICOM: Condition ALD brothers, 10, and Ra, 5, who allegedly exposed to bird flu, until Saturday (8 / 10) is still worrying.
Two of the boy from Bangli is still in intensive care at Sanglah Hospital, Bali.
Nusa Indah in isolation rooms specifically designed for patients who indicated that infectious disease had looked guard from the hospital.
The crew of the media is only allowed to see the second condition of the patient monitors located in the room rose to the conditions that must be completely sterile and not everything can be entered.
"The team doctors who deal with both the patient has given tamiflu and anti-infective drugs in order to stabilize the patient's condition," said Sanglah Hospital Medical Director Dr. Jaya Kusuma, AAN.
He explained that currently enter the citizens from Banjar Dinas Antuga, Jehem Village, District Tembuku, Bangli District's physical condition shows signs of bird flu patients.
Such physical characteristics, plus Jaya Kusuma, among other conditions are sufficiently high heat and experiencing shortness of breath and should be given breathing assistance device.
According to him, these patients before they could be treated at health centers near their homes because of the heat for three days. "Based on his family, both patients previously had a history of contact with poultry that died suddenly around her house in early October," he said

Sanglah Hospital Positive Patient Handle Bird Flu


pasien-positif-flu-burung Patients suspected of contracting bird flu in Sudirohusodo Wahidin Hospital, Makassar.

08/10/2011 13:44, Denpasar: General Hospital Center (Dr) Sanglah, Denpasar, Bali, stating that it was treating two patients who tested positive of bird flu in the isolation room Nusa Indah, on Saturday (8 / 10). Brother and sister from Bangli regency was treated since Friday.

According to the hospital, the second condition of the patient concerned, so that immediately undergo laboratory examinations. Team doctors Sanglah Hospital awaiting test results of blood samples from the Laboratory of Research and Development Center of the Ministry of Health (MOH Balitbang) RI and Udayana University School of Medicine (FK Udayana University

Originally the brothers Bangli Positive Bird Flu
National / Saturday, October 8, 2011 12:27 AM
, Denpasar: Sanglah Central General Hospital, Denpasar, Bali, caring for two brothers from Bangli District of bird flu virus.

"Both patients were the initials ALD (10) and Ra (5) who entered the hospital on Friday (7 / 10) night," said Sanglah Hospital Medical Director Dr. Jaya Kusuma, AAN in Denpasar, on Saturday (8 / 10).

Kusuma explains, from the laboratory by a team of doctors they Sanglah Hospital tested positive for bird flu. To confirm it must wait for the results of blood tests and saliva samples are sent to the Laboratory School of Medicine University of Udayana and Balitbang Ministry of Health.

Jaya Kusuma said the current two brothers patient is still in intensive care in isolation rooms Nusa Indah, and none are allowed to enter the media crew.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

WHO: Influenza at the Human-Animal Interface

Influenza viruses circulating in animals pose threats to human health. Humans can be exposed to these viruses, such as avian influenza virus subtypes H5N1 and H9N2 and swine influenza virus subtypes H1N1 and H3N2, in many ways, such as:

  • when people's work brings them in contact with infected animals.
  • when people contact infected animals during their everyday lives, such as when visiting live animal markets or when these animals are kept as part of the household.
  • when people handle or slaughter infected animals, or work with raw meat and by-products from infected animals.
  • when people contact things around them, such as animal housing areas and equipment, ponds and other water sources, faeces, and feathers, if these things are contaminated with influenza viruses.

In some cases these zoonotic infections (infections in humans acquired from an animal source) result in severe disease or even death in humans, but often these infections result in only a mild illness or appear to cause no illness at all. All human infections with animal influenza viruses are of concern, not only because of the cases of disease and deaths in individual people, but also because if these viruses become able to spread from human to human they could spark a pandemic. All of the past four pandemic influenza viruses have contained gene components originating in animals.

The actual public health risks posed by influenza viruses circulating in bird, swine, and other animal populations are not completely understood. Recent findings suggest that influenza viruses in animals and humans increasingly behave like a pool of genes circulating among multiple hosts, and that the potential exists for novel influenza viruses to be generated in swine and other animals. This situation reinforces the need for close monitoring and close collaboration between public health and veterinary authorities. WHO continues to work vigilantly with national ministries of health and animal health sector partners globally to identify and mitigate these influenza public health risks at the human-animal interface.

Contagion Grips 'Flublogia'
Posted: 10/6/11 03:24 PM ET
At 6:48 a.m. on April 22, 2009, a leading flu blogger named "Revere" posted the first warning about a remarkable bit of news he'd spotted in a routine weekly report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. With what he labeled "an element of luck," the CDC had discovered a novel swine flu virus in two San Diego-area children.
Within 33 hours, CDC officials were telling excited reporters that human transmission had been detected in California and Texas. It wasn't the H5N1 bird flu whose gory onset had been anticipated for years by Internet health activists, but swine flu was scary.
To have played such a key role in detecting the emergence of a deadly global virus thrilled the worldwide virtual community known as "Flublogia," whose members use social media to track influenza and other infectious agents that range from KPC bacteria to Chikungunya.

The excitement didn't last. When swine flu turned into something of a nonevent (except for the mostly young victims whose lungs turned to pulp), fatigue inexorably gripped Flublogia. Less than 11 months after he had broken the news of the outbreak, Revere (who turned out to be a pseudonymous group of public health professionals led by a Boston epidemiologist) became the first of many flu bloggers to sign off.
"The Reveres' retirement left a gaping hole in Flublogia," recalls Mike Coston, a former paramedic and emergency preparedness firebrand who has blogged at Avian Flu Diary since early 2006. Like many surviving bloggers, Coston was drawn to the subject of infectious diseases by H5N1, the avian flu virus that most experts still consider the world No. 1 infectious-disease threat.
Coston rises at 4 a.m. daily to conduct research and write until midday, resuming work in the evening. He posts news, analysis, and historical context backed with links about a world of microbial menaces, drawing on the work of "dozens of news hounds" who crowdsource disease surveillance at a bustling bulletin board called FluTrackers. Posting in thousands of the site's forums and sub-forums, they track down, translate, and post alarming health developments drawn from local newspapers and obscure scientific journals.
Few outbreaks, anywhere, go undetected in Flublogia.
The community's reward has been Contagion -- a hit movie about a killer virus that exalts science and public health professionals, in part by pitting them against an evil blogger who looks like Julian Assange with bad teeth. Contagion's young villain pitches bogus antivirals on his vast Internet platform and even provokes a crusty scientist to dismiss blogging as "graffiti with punctuation."
As someone who's about to issue a novel about a do-it-yourself flu blogger's struggle to survive an avian flu pandemic in New York's East Village, I was modestly affronted when I saw the movie. My architect-blogger in American Fever: A Tale of Romance & Pestilence is fictitious, but he and his knowledge base emerged from years of serious research, much of which I've conducted on flu blogs.
What, I've been wondering, do the real flu bloggers -- who don't even accept advertising on their well-traveled sites, lest an ad for Tamiflu sap their credibility by popping up next to a story on antivirals -- think of Contagion's greedy Alan Krumwiede?
"I thought he was a caricature," says Crawford Killian, a retired business-writing teacher and novelist in Vancouver who serves as Flublogia's unofficial dean and longest-running contributor via his popular site, H5N1. "I know there are a lot of very strange people out there, blogging their brains out. But for a guy making $4 million, [Krumwiede] seemed to be operating solo -- 12 million hits per day and he's sticking posters under windshield wipers?"
"Part of me was slightly insulted," says Coston, who likes the movie. "But there are a number of conspiratorial antivaccine bloggers out there that are in some ways close to that." Indeed, a popular antivaccine site called greeted Contagion by warning visitors: "Hollywood begins mass brainwashing campaign to get people ready for the next bioengineered virus release."
"These nuts exist and the Internet gives them an audience and microphone," says Scott McPherson, chief information officer at the Florida House of Representatives and host of Scott McPherson's Web Presence, an IT-and-infrastructure-oriented flu blog. Calling the Krumwiede character "a 21st century snake-oil salesman," he hails Contagion as "an intelligently written movie. I particularly liked the fact that the feds decided to shut him down."
"The majority of us didn't like the movie, didn't find it hard-hitting enough," says Cottontop, an upstate New York mother of two who posts on the Flu Wiki bulletin board and blogs at her Flu News Network. As for Contagion's Krumwiede, she says: "We are not like that. Flu forums and flu blogs are 24-hour public health services -- first responders to getting the news out."

Bestselling author Laurie Garrett (The Coming Plague, I Heard the Sirens Scream), who as a paid consultant contributed a lot of ideas to more than 30 drafts for Contagion's screenplay, says that Krumwiede's character was inspired by her shock at seeing how many people posted false information about "life and death matters" during the swine flu pandemic.

Still, says Garrett, "there's a whole bunch of very good blog sites. You can't believe people have the time to do all this." As she and Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns worked hard to whip up the movie's MEV-1 bat virus, she was tracking Flublogia. "Revere was way ahead of the curve. You'd think: 'How did he find this out?' You have to admire the tenacity and the digging."
On the plus side, the flu bloggers -- who universally complain that gas, electricity, and food never runs out in Contagion -- agree that the movie has spurred interest in their work. McPherson, who until recently hadn't blogged much about flu for more than a year, says he's "fired back up again," with five posts in various stages of development.
"My blog has picked up a lot of new people since Contagion," says Cottontop. "And the number of Indonesians reading it and going to Flu Wiki has really picked up, too. Something's going on over there with H5N1."

Encephalitis kills 400 in flood-hit northern India in past month

Published on Thu, Oct 06, 2011

LUCKNOW (AlertNet) - More than 400 people in northern India have died in the past month from encephalitis, a rare condition that causes inflammation of the brain, government officials said on Wednesday.
Encephalitis is most often caused by a viral infection from eating or drinking contaminated food or water, from mosquito or other insect bites, or through breathing in respiratory droplets from an infected person.
Around 347 people have died in Uttar Pradesh, while 54 children have died in the neighbouring state of Bihar. Over two thousand cases have been reported in the last three months.
"Acute Encephalitis Syndrome has two types of infections - Japanese Encephalitis, which occurs due to mosquitoes and Entro-viral Encephalitis, which is caused due to unsafe drinking water," said Dinesh Kumar Srivastava from the Community Medicine Department in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur district, where patients are receiving treatment.
Officials said the main areas where the outbreak of the virus has been noticed have been poor, flood-hit areas of the region, where this year's monsoons have left pools of stagnant water that have allowed mosquitoes to breed and infect villagers.
The floods have also led to the contamination of clean water sources such as wells, leaving many people with no option but to use the same dirty water for both drinking and sanitation.
According to the World Health Organisation, viral encephalitis causes high fever, headache, stiff neck and back, vomiting, confusion and, in severe cases, seizures, paralysis and coma. Infants and elderly people are particularly at risk of severe illness.
The infection spreads every year in impoverished parts of Uttar Pradesh during the monsoon season, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
Officials say the government has earmarked 22 million rupees ($450,000) to tackle problems like the unavailability of clean drinking water, lack of sanitation and water-logging, to prevent the virus from spreading.
But local aid workers say efforts need to be stepped up.
"The infection started in the early 1970s and since then it has become an annual feature. The government is adopting short term measures to deal with the infection instead of making any long term plan to get rid of the virus,” said Sanjay Kumar Srivastava from Action for Peace, Prosperity and Liberty (APPL), a charity doing research on the disease.
"Besides, no preventive measures are taken to stop the outbreak," he added, suggesting that vaccinations be more readily available to adults as well as to children.

encephalitis-kills-400in past month

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


06 Oct 2011
Wal-Mart China has apologized for selling ordinary pork as organic in three stores in the southwest city of Chongqing, the eighth time this year the local industry watchdog has uncovered illegal practices at the global retailer.
The Chongqing Industry and Commerce Administration launched an investigation into the supermarket chain after receiving complaints that ordinary pork was sold as organic at higher price, Chongqing Evening News reported yesterday.

Officials found the organic pork sold in three Wal-Mart stores in Chongqing had no organic seal.

The three stores made extra profits of more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,565) from sales of 1,179 kilograms falsely labeled pork, pricing it at 10 yuan per kilogram more than it should be, from January to August.

Tang Chuan, an official with the Chongqing Industry and Commerce Administration, told the newspaper the three were guilty of false promotion and fraud. He said Wal-Mart would be punished for illegal business practices.

Wal-Mart China said it is cooperating with the investigation and has set up a task force to make a thorough check on all pork products in Chong-qing stores and has pledged to tighten internal management to prevent such things happening again...

Date: Tue 4 Oct 2011
Source: The Namibian [edited]

The 27-year-old woman who died in the Katutura State Hospital on 24
Sep 2011 had liver failure and not a communicable disease. Similarly,
the 41-year-old man who died in the Roman Catholic Hospital on 27 Sep
2011 had no contagious disease and died of heart failure.

This was confirmed at a meeting at the Ministry of Health and Social
Services head office in Windhoek yesterday [3 Oct 2011]. The ministry,
the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention launched an investigation last week [week of 26
Sep 2011] after it was reported that people were allegedly dying of a
mysterious bleeding disease in the Hakahana area of Katutura.

Yesterday [3 Oct 2011], it was also revealed that only 2 patients died
and not 4 as had been reported earlier. It was further established
that the 2 deaths were unrelated. When the female patient was admitted
to hospital, she complained of headache and a body rash. She was also
found to be bleeding. After admission, her condition deteriorated and
she later died.

The 2nd patient collapsed on arrival at hospital and later died.
According to his death certificate, he died because of heart failure.

Dr Jack Vries of the health ministry said the probe showed that there
is no public health concern. On Friday [30 Sep 2011] already, Vries
had said the patients did not die of poisoning. This came after he
ruled out haemorrhagic fever -- like Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever,
Ebola fever, or Rift Valley fever -- as the cause of the deaths on
Thursday [29 Sep 2011].

[Byline: Denver Kisting]

Communicated by:
Ronan Kelly

WHO: Keep current strains in 2012 Southern Hemisphere flu vaccine

 – A run of stability in the makeup of seasonal influenza vaccines continued as the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended using the same three flu strains in next year's Southern Hemisphere vaccine as are in the current Northern Hemisphere vaccine and were used last year in southern countries.

.  Earlier, the province of Soc Trang (from 14-9 to 25-9), PRRS in pigs have appeared in Thuan Hoa commune, Chau Thanh district, the pigs are killed and destroyed 146 children. Meanwhile, in the province of Tay Ninh, blue ear disease continue to arise more in 9 communes of 3 districts of Tan Chau and Tan Bien Dau.
. As appears from the first outbreak (19-9-2011) to 30-9-2011, the province of Soc Trang has 141 households in 13 communes and towns of the three districts mentioned above occurs ear green pigs, pigs with a total of more than 1,350 children, in which pigs are killed and destroyed more than 140 children. . The five provinces are PRRS in pigs less than 21 days, including Long An, Tien Giang, Tay Ninh, Soc Trang and Quang Nam. 
 Animal Health Department said, in Quang Ngai province-one of two avian influenza are, the recent days continue to generate additional poultry disease.  Only in the last 3-10 days, in the province two districts of Binh Son and Son Tinh had 23 thousand birds were killed and destroyed.

Egypt: Menoufia High Committee to Combat Bird Flu #H5N1

High Committee to Combat Bird Flu Menoufia meeting yesterday was attended by Assistant Secretary General and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health and the Director of the Directorate of Veterinary Medicine, which reviewed the position of bird flu in the governorate and the actions that are taken during the current period and to be taken in the next stage to tackle the disease and prevent its spread.

For his part assigned advisor Ashraf Hilal, governor of Menoufia, the Supreme Committee to hold a monthly meeting to follow up preventive measures and ask the heads of local units to provide landfill and the work of rounds of a sudden on the farm, and freedom from routine procedures, and activating the work of the committees and the tightening campaign on the farm is licensed and rely on scientific solutions innovative to cope with the disease and the emphasis on fully equipping hospitals and providing isolation wards, doctors, trainers and rural outreach as well as to provide enough doses of Tamiflu for the treatment of any cases among citizens.

It is worth mentioning that since 2006, formed a group of committees in every local unit headed by the President of the local unit of traffic on the markets and farms and gather information to fight the virus and prevent its spread.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Forbes: Is The Government Hiding Something About Swine Flu?


Remember the flu pandemic? The one that swept the world just two years ago? You might be forgiven if this has slipped your mind – after all, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal now. That’s because we got lucky: despite many dire warnings about the danger of another 1918 “Spanish flu”, when the 2009 pandemic arrived, it was far milder than previous pandemics. Hundreds of millions of people got the flu in 2009, but for most of them, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, the new flu is less severe the old flu – the strain that was circulating before the new pandemic hit.


The 2009 pandemic originated in pig farms in Mexico. We don’t know precisely where it made the first leap into humans, but it appears that two different strains joined together in a pig somewhere to create the new H1N1. The flu has a nasty habit of jumping the species barrier, hopping to humans from both pigs and chickens.

So now that we know all this, next time will be different, right? The world’s influenza scientists are monitoring pigs and chickens closely now, keeping a close eye on any new flu strains. Right? RIGHT???

Er, no. Not exactly. For one thing, surveillance in pigs appears to be nonexistent. I checked to see how many flu sequences from pigs in Mexican have been desposited in the public archive at GenBank since 2009 (using this terrific database). The result? One, in 2009. Nothing from 2010 or 2011. Hello, is anyone awake at the CDC and the WHO?

This despite the fact that scientists have serious concerns that the deadly H5N1 avian flu (the “bird flu”) could combine its genes with H1N1 and create a really nasty new flu strain. And scientists have long had concerns that pigs could be the mixing vessels for new flu outbreaks – exactly what happened in 2009.

But wait… maybe they are monitoring the flu, but they’re just not telling us. That would feed into all the fringe government conspiracy groups that claimed the 2009 pandemic was an intentionally engineered government-funded enterprise (see this BMJ article for more). I don’t believe any of those conspiracy theories – most of them are just nuts – but read on.

Sharing data about flu viruses has been a touchy subject with the WHO and the CDC for years. As reported by the University of Minnesota’s CIDRAP:

“In late 2006, virus sharing became an international flash point when Indonesia broke a long tradition of free international sharing of flu virus specimens by withholding its H5N1 virus samples as a protest against the high cost of commercial vaccines derived from such samples. The controversy has drawn attention to the problem of equitably distributing vaccines in the event of a pandemic.”

A few months ago, the WHO finally agreed on a new set of principles on data sharing, which states that

“The WHO GISRS laboratories [which includes the CDC] will submit genetic sequences data to GISAID and Genbank or similar databases in a timely manner.”

Excellent! So are they doing it?

As every biomedical scientist knows, GenBank is a free, public database of genetic sequence data that contains millions of sequences, from humans, bacteria, viruses, you name it. But GISAID is a Swiss database – one that I initially supported – just for flu data. The original mission of GISAID was that data deposited there would go to GenBank as well, with little or no delay. But in a classic bait-and-switch move, the GISAID board changed that policy after the database was up and running, and now they can sit on data as long as they want.

OK, it’s a private database, so they can do what they want. True enough. But here’s the surprising bit: the CDC deposits most of its flu sequences ONLY in GISAID, where they can milk them for scientific results for years without sharing them with others. As one of GISAID’s original supporters, I have an account there, and here’s what I found.

So far, the CDC has deposited sequences from 6,801 flu isolates in GISAID, of which only a tiny handful are in GenBank. 3201 of these originated in the U.S., so there can’t be any foreign government insisting that they be kept secret. These provide critical data that could help scientists predict what is coming in the next flu season. But you can’t get these sequences without a GISAID account. And even if you have a GISAID account, as I do, you have to agree not to release the data as a condition of getting a look.

So why does the CDC deposit sequences in GISAID? I think it’s precisely because of the restrictions. CDC’s scientists don’t want others to look at “their” data, because they’re afraid someone else might discover something important and publish it before them.

The CDC, of course, is part of the U.S. government, and all its work is funded by the public. But it seems that the CDC flu scientists have forgotten their public health mission – or at least, they appear to be more concerned about their own careers (and the papers they might publish) than about making sure the world is ready for the next pandemic.

And by the way, even these sequences don’t seem to include anything from pigs in Mexico. Hello, CDC? You are looking at swine flu now, aren’t you?

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. I love the CDC: they do a terrific job most of the time, providing vital services to protect the public from infectious diseases. But their internal scientists sometimes seem to operate within a cocoon, and I’m afraid that’s happening here. This culture of secrecy has got to stop, and I suspect that will only happen under pressure from the outside. The CDC Director, Thomas Frieden, needs to tell his flu people to start sharing what they know with the rest of the world. And they can start by putting their data in GenBank.

WHO: Southern Hemisphere 2012 Flu Vaccine Composition

From Avian Flu Diary:

Twice each year influenza experts gather to discuss recent developments in human and animal influenza viruses around the world, and to decide on the composition of the next influenza season’s flu vaccine.

Due to the time it takes to manufacture a vaccine, decisions on which strains to include must be made six months in advance.

The composition of the northern hemisphere’s vaccine is decided upon in February of each year, and decisions on the southern hemisphere’ vaccine are made in September.

Accordingly, last week representatives from divisions of the World Health Organization’s GISRS (Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System), along with members of OFFLU (the OIE/FAO Network on Animal Influenza), and other experts gathered in Chavannes-de-Bogis, Switzerland.

The agenda for this meeting (WHO Consultation on the Composition of Influenza Vaccine for the Southern Hemisphere 2012) states the following objectives:

1. Analyse the antigenic and genetic characteristics of influenza viruses circulating and infecting humans, taking into consideration of available epidemiological and clinical information from individual countries and regions;

2. Make recommendations on the composition of the influenza vaccines for use in the southern hemisphere 2012;

3. Review the antigenic and genetic characteristics of recent A(H5N1) viruses that the WHO Collaborating Centres of the WHO GISRS received and the need to develop new A(H5N1) candidate vaccine viruses for pandemic preparedness purposes;

4. Review the antigenic and genetic characteristics of other subtype influenza viruses, if any, infecting humans recently, and the need to develop new candidate vaccine viruses for pandemic preparedness purposes.

Below are some excerpts from their 15-page report: Recommended composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2012 influenza season - full report

Zoonotic influenza infections caused by avian A(H5N1), avian A(H9N2) and swine A(H3N2) viruses

From 16 February 2011 to 19 September 2011, 45 confirmed human cases of A(H5N1), 24 of which were fatal, were reported by Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt and Indonesia, countries in which highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N1) is present in poultry. Since December 2003, a total of 564 cases with 330 deaths have been confirmed in 15 countries. To date there has been no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

One human case of influenza A(H9N2) was detected in Bangladesh and four human infections caused by swine A(H3N2) viruses were detected in the United States of America during the same period.

Under the heading: Antigenic and genetic characteristics of recent isolates, the group found that despite growing diversity among variants of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus, the vast majority remain antigenically similar to the original virus.

Influenza A(H1N1) viruses

Between February and August 2011, all influenza A(H1N1) viruses detected worldwide were A(H1N1)pdm09; no former seasonal A(H1N1) viruses were detected. Haemagglutination inhibition (HI) tests using post-infection ferret antisera indicated that A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses remained antigenically homogeneous and closely related to the vaccine virus A/California/7/2009.

The same could be said for the H3N2 virus, where the majority of samples remain antigenically similar to the A/Perth/16/2009 virus which has been part of the flu vaccine for the past couple of years.

Influenza A(H3N2) viruses

The majority of A(H3N2) viruses collected from February to August 2011 were antigenically closely related to the vaccine virus A/Perth/16/2009. Antigenic characteristics were assessed with panels of post-infection ferret antisera in HI and virus neutralization assays. The HA genes of recent viruses fell into two phylogenetic clades represented by A/Perth/16/2009 and A/Victoria/208/2009, with the vast majority falling within the A/Victoria/208/2009 clade.

Influenza B is always a bit of a wildcard, since there are two main strains in circulation, and only one is currently included in the vaccine. In recent years the Victoria strain has been dominant, but the Yamagata lineage waits in the wings and continues to circulate in northern China.

Influenza B viruses

Influenza B viruses of both the B/Victoria/2/87 and the B/Yamagata/16/88 lineages co-circulated, with B/Victoria/2/87 lineage viruses continuing to predominate globally. However,in northern China, B/Yamagata/16/88 lineage viruses predominated from February to May 2011 before influenza activity declined.

The bottom line: The bulk of the influenza viruses currently circulating, while they continue to evolve, remain antigenically similar to to those that have been including in the flu vaccine since 2010.

When a strain is said to be `antigenically similar’ to the vaccine strain, it is expected (but not assured) that the vaccine remains reasonably effective.

While research and refinements in candidate vaccines continue, next year’s vaccine recommendations for the southern hemisphere remains essentially the same for the third year in a row.

The report concludes:

It is expected that A(H1N1)pdm09, A(H3N2) and B viruses will co-circulate in the 2012 southern hemisphere season.

It is recommended that the following viruses be used for influenza vaccines in the 2012 influenza season (southern hemisphere):

– an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
– an A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus;
– a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.

Flu viruses are constantly changing, mutating, and evolving making any forecast a bit of a gamble. As we saw with the 2009 H1N1 swine flu, a novel virus can emerge and change the viral landscape practically overnight.

But despite the variability and unpredictability of influenza, the track record for selecting influenza A strains for the flu shot has actually been pretty good over the years.

We won’t know how well this decision will turn out in the southern hemisphere for another 6 to 12 months, but for those of us north of the equator, this is a pretty good indication that confidence in the makeup of this fall’s flu vaccine remains high.

A good enough reason to go ahead and get the shot this year, before flu season arrives.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Robert Webster: 'We ignore bird flu at our peril'

With the UN issuing renewed warnings and a Hollywood disaster movie stoking our fears, bird flu is back in the news. We meet the man who first warned of a pandemic 50 years ago – and who is worried again now.

Scientists are still uncertain what prompted the reassortment and why Mexico was the centre – H1N1 was what scientists call a "triple reassortant", containing genes from a human flu, and genes from both north American and Eurasian strains of swine flu.

Despite having invested millions in disease surveillance since the 1990s, Webster says the virus caught flu-watchers with their "pants down". "In 2009, we were focused on H5N1. We just did not imagine that a variant of H1N1 would suddenly appear because the virus had been stable for years. It was in its monogamous phase. The view was that it couldn't mate with other viruses."


However, the agency said its biggest concern was the appearance of the new 2.3.2. group of viruses in China and Vietnam, and the associated risk that migratory waterfowl could carry the virus further afield, leading to a resurgence of "backyard" poultry infections across the Middle East and Europe, as had occurred in 2005-6.

Webster believes the focus on 2.3.2. is premature. He is more worried about the related 2.2.1 strain that is endemic in Egypt's poultry industry (there have already been 32 human infections and 12 deaths this year, the highest of any country in the world). Concern is mounting in Bangladesh over the prevalence of another virus – H9N2 – that is endemic to live bird markets.

Webster argues that we need to know more about the duck's role in perpetuating viruses in the wild. "These viruses could be coming out of chickens and the ducks are just picking it up in the water or it could be that the duck is transferring the virus to its young when it breeds. We just don't have a good answer to that."

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