- WASHINGTON - Bird flu likely
would be detected in the United States this year, federal officials warned
Monday as a top UN official said efforts to fight a pandemic in Africa
were hamstrung by a lack of money.
- Migratory birds are increasingly likely
to bring ashore avian influenza to the United States and would be subject
to increased monitoring under government plans to reduce the risks of a
viral wildfire, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Agriculture Secretary Mike
Johanns, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt told
- Nigeria, February 11, 2006. Fewer than
three dozen nations are capable of the early detection and quick response
needed to contain rapidly spreading bird flu and other viruses that could
threaten humans, a health official said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
- ''None of us can build a cage around
the United States. We have to be prepared to deal with the virus here,''
said Johanns, a former Nebraska governor.
- In particular, monitoring would concentrate
on Alaska, Hawaii, and Pacific islands, Norton said. That is where scientists
have said the more dangerous strain of H5N1 virus most likely would arrive.
- The World Health Organization has blamed
H5N1 in the deaths of 98 people worldwide since 2003.
- Johanns cautioned against panic once
bird flu is detected on U.S. soil, saying that alone would not mean the
start of an epidemic among humans.
- Were the virus to hit the $29 billion-a-year
American poultry industry, however, authorities would quarantine affected
areas, destroy infected flocks, and compensate farmers for their loss,
- U.S. authorities and poultry producers
had dealt with three previous outbreaks of other forms of bird flu: in
1924, 1983, and 2004.
- Bird flu is hard to catch. Humans can
contract the virus when handling--and especially slaughtering--infected
birds but the flu does not appear to be transmitted through cooked meat
- Initially, the virus spread as a result
of chickens mixing with domesticated and wild waterfowl that carried it
and transmitted it through their sputum and excreta.
- Scientists fear that the virus could
mutate into a form that people could easily get and pass on to others,
sparking a potential human pandemic.
- Last November, President George W. Bush
announced a $7.1 billion plan to stockpile enough vaccine against the current
strain of bird flu to protect some 20 million Americans. The federal government
also would store about $1 billion worth of anti-viral drugs that lessen
the severity of flu symptoms.
- The Bush plan drew buckshot from lawmakers
and health and consumer advocates who said it was unrealistic, relied too
heavily on the private sector, and placed too heavy a financial burden
on states to pay for drugs from the national stockpile.
- Additionally, groups including the Global
AIDS Alliance and Health GAP warned that the U.S. stockpile would undermine
poorer countries' efforts to contain the disease and treat their populations.
- Health advocates acknowledged that Roche
AG, which makes oseltamivir under the brand name Tamiflu, had offered to
allow other companies to make generic versions of the drug. They nevertheless
urged the United States and other countries confronting potential pandemics
to suspend or override patents in order to access necessary supplies.
- On Monday, the United Nations' top bird
flu coordinator said the world body and African countries would have to
scrape together money for emergency plans because wealthy governments had
so far failed to make good on pledges of aid to help poor countries combat
the virus and its lethal effects.
- Donors had pledged $1.9 billion in January
during a special conference in China called to help poor countries strengthen
medical, veterinary, and laboratory systems and boost global surveillance
measures to control the spread of the H5N1 virus.
- Yet, ''there are insufficient resources
available at the present time to put in place emergency plans and prepare
a coordinated response,'' David Nabarro, the senior UN coordinator for
avian influenza, was quoted as saying in news reports from bird flu crisis
talks in Libreville.
- ''African countries and the United Nations
system must contribute resources to make up for this, in the hope that
development partners will react rapidly,'' Nabarro said. Exact figures
on the funding shortfall were not immediately available.
- Nabarro spoke after Egyptian authorities
said over the weekend that they had found the virus in the blood of a dead
woman--the first known human casualty in Africa, which scientists have
warned may be the region of the world least prepared to handle a mass outbreak.
- Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon also have
confirmed cases of the disease in poultry. A number of other African countries
are testing dead birds--a process that has been slowed to an untenable
extent by the need to send out to foreign laboratories, according to Nabarro.
- Back in the United States, the Food and
Drug Administration on Monday proposed banning the use of human flu drugs
in poultry in order to preserve their effectiveness for people in case
of a pandemic.
- The drugs--including Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline
PLC's Relenza--are not approved to treat or prevent flu in animals. Veterinarians
can prescribe them legally, however, and the drugs as well as older ones
are believed to be in use among chickens, turkeys, and ducks, regulators
- Such use could make it easier for bird
flu to mutate and resist treatment when people use the drugs, officials
- U.S. poultry producers do not use the
drugs, a spokesman for trade association the National Chicken Council,
was quoted as saying in news reports.
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