Bird flu warning: Antiviral pill may be useless

In 1933, MRC (Medical Research Council) researchers identified human influenza virus, at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in London – which was to become one of the most important centres in the world for flu research.

Since then the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) has been at the forefront of research in to the Influenza viruses.

It is therefore more than a little disturbing when Dr Alan Hay, a distinguished NIMR scientist drops a bombshell about the Human Influenza virus and the so called antiviral protection against the virus.

Apparently, all those countries which have been spending Millions of Dollars stockpiling Tamiflu, the main antiviral drug used to protect humans against the Bird Flu, have been wasting their money!

A Report co-authored by Alan Hay, of the UK’s National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) says that the Tamiflu is useless against the mutations of the Bird Flu virus.

The report suggests that the mutations of the H5N1 Bird Flu virus, that have emerged in human influenza, are resistant to the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

However, according to the same report, the mutations are still “strongly inhibited” by an alternative drug, Relenza.

Both drugs are commonly stockpiled but governments both in Australia and around the world have favoured the more convenient Tamiflu pill ahead of the inhaled medicine Relenza.

“The mutations cause resistance to Tamiflu but not Relenza,” Dr Hay told ABC Radio.

“It’s clear that there is greater potential for Tamiflu-resistant viruses to emerge than was previously thought. Relying on a single drug is foolhardy when more than one drug is available.”

Dr Hay says one implication of the new research is that governments should stockpile greater courses of Relenza.

That is of course, until the new drug Relenza, also becomes useless against the influenza virus due to further mutations of the virus!



Bird-Flu Outbreak in Vaccinated Ducks Triggers Mutation Fear

An outbreak of the dreaded Bird-Flu virus is bad enough for any country, it is specially feared in China, the land of its origin.

What makes the recent outbreak of the H5N1 virus, found in the ducks in farms near Guangzhou’s Panyu district even worse, is the fact that the infected ducks had apparently been vaccinated (or at least partially vaccinated) against the H5N1 virus!

According to Guangdong Animal Epidemic Prevention Center director Yu Yedong, the 9,800 ducks that died at Sixian village had been vaccinated.

However, Yedong added that the ducks were given only the first shot of the vaccine, which is only be 65 percent effective, while a second shot would have made it 90 percent.

Even so, the outbreak in vaccinated ducks in Guangzhou, has triggered fears in Hong Kong that the Bird-Flu virus may have mutated.

Dr Ho Pak-leung, an infectious diseases expert at Hong Kong University, said there were worries the virus had mutated or the vaccine had not been effective.

Lo Wing-lok, another infectious diseases expert, called for a ban on the import of ducks from areas around Panyu.

Hong Kong Bird Watching Society chairman Cheung Ho-fai said migratory birds from Panyu are likely to carry the virus to the territory, although previous H5N1 cases in Hong Kong had been found to be unrelated to migratory birds.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it will monitor the situation and step up inspections at local poultry farms.

Hong Kong New Territories Poultry-Culture (geese and ducks) Mutual Aid Association chairman Kwok Chi-yau said the outbreak has led to a 20 to 30 percent drop in poultry sales.


Photo Credit  VOVNEWS

Back-to-the-Future for Bird-Flu Vaccines

The problem with all of the currently produced vaccines for the H5N1 virus is, that they may not protect us when we need them the most.

There is no guaranty, that the vaccines in production now, would provide any protection what so ever against the Pandemic Flu virus, if and when there is one.

Influenza viruses constantly mutate, however, and vaccines are most effective against the highly specific strains that they are made from.

This makes it difficult to predict how effective a vaccine made today will be against a virus that emerges tomorrow.

The vaccines produced for one strain of the virus, may not be effective against the mutated new version of the same virus. 

In order for the current Bird-Flu (H5N1) virus to mutate in to a human pandemic virus, it would have to have substantial changes to its structure.

Any vaccines produced for the current H5N1 virus therefore, would most probably, not be effective against the mutated human pandemic virus.


Because of the above, I have always believed that the effort and money being spent in the production and the storage of the vaccines for the H5N1 virus, such as Tamiflu, is a real waste of resources.


Now however things may be different if the a team of scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) -a part of National Institutes of Health (NIH), succeeds in their project.

Led by Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIAID’s Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC), the team is reporting in the August 10, 2007 issue of the journal Science that they have developed a strategy to generate vaccines and therapeutic antibodies that could target predicted H5N1 mutants before these viruses evolve naturally.

“What Dr. Nabel and his colleagues have discovered will help to prepare for a future threat,” says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.  “While nobody knows if and when H5N1 will jump from birds to humans, they have come up with a way to anticipate how that jump might occur and ways to respond to it.”

According to Dr. Nabel, their findings should contribute to better surveillance of naturally occurring avian flu outbreaks by making it easier to recognize dangerous mutants and identify vaccine candidates that might provide greater efficacy against such a virus before it emerges.


Of Bird-Flu, Pigs, Cats, Dogs, Shrews, and Tigers.

Crawford Kilian’s H5N1 Croftsblogs and the Effect Measure are two of my favourite sounding boards, for all matters regarding the Bird-Flu virus.

Refreshingly, almost all of the posts as well as the comments of the visitors to these two sites are well thought out and reasonable and even though the boffins on the Effect Measure do have their shin dings every now and then, it is almost always based on facts and not fiction.

Of course there are exceptions.

So as I was going through the Effect Measure blog today about the really interesting problem of the apparently invisible source of the H5N1 virus that seems to appear out of no where, causes a certain number of human infections and then promptly vanishes as quietly as it had arrived.

I was impressed with the bit at the end of the post saying:

“Maybe it’s not true that almost all cases are from infected birds. Maybe there are other reservoirs in the environment, animate or inanimate. There is some equivocal data from feral cats. What else? There has been very little systematic surveillance of wildlife other than birds for infection with this virus. Maybe it’s time to do it. Just a thought.”

Revere, I believe that you are absolutely correct.

This is exactly the conclusion that I have arrived at after monitoring the Bird-Flu saga over the last 3 years. 

It is true that every now and then there is a small “cluster” of Bird-Flu fatalities resulting in the repeat of the banner headlines in the main line media as well as in the flubie blogs declaring a mutation of the virus enabling it to be able to jump the species barrier from birds to humans.

If you examine all the statements closely however, you will find that there was never a definite positive confirmation of a human to human infection at any of these clusters.

Instead, there is always a “negative proof” (such as there were no birds near the victim) provided for the perceived  human to human infection of the virus.

There is ample proof on the other hand, of other reservoirs of the H5N1in the environment.

The H5N1 has infected not only birds and humans, but also many other mammals over the last few years.

The H5N1 has been found in creatures, ranging from shrews, pigs, cats, dogs to even tigers and leopards!



(Moreover, a close look through the very large archived data, comprising of Bird-Flu News as well as Blogs at the, will show that these non-bird-H5N1 cases have been more frequent than is realised by most of us.)

I have lived in South East Asia for a while and can tell you that the flocks of poultry are not the only form of life in constant and close contact with humans in the rural settings in that area.

So I thought that the post by Revere was really informative.

A responding comment from Sigrid van Dort of Holland was also very interesting.

He is from the why-panic-about-the-bird-flu camp and presents fairly reasonable arguments for the same.

I think that he is wrong about many things but his posts are worth reading.

But then, along came JOHN, the exception that I was talking about.

There was this post that began with the very firm and apparently absolutely true statement:

“It has already been established that the virus has spread from person to person.” said John, adding that “The death rate is extremely high”. 

“The real problem arises if it mutates into a form that spreads more easily.” John informed us, “Some think this is just a matter of time, given the nature of flu viruses.” he said, sounding now very much like the phseodo bird flu site that are really pointers to a bird flu related product for sale.

Sure enough in the next line John invited us all to go to his site where he is offering all kinds of goodies, including a free guide to the Pandemic Bird Flu! John, I would like to respectfully suggestt that even though there is nothing at all wrong in trying to promote any products, could I please persuade you not to peddle your products at this blog, as there is very little chance of any one here receiving the undoubted benefits of the said products. 

Here are links to two of the best Bird-flu related sites:

Bird-Flu inflicted Vietnam has got to be kidding us all!

Vietnam is “havin a laugh” as the Brits would put it!

One of the facts about the current Bird-Flu outbreaks in an increasing number of countries is so weird and dangerous, that if it were to be explained to the average man on the street, it would not be believed!

As per World Health Organisation approved rules, a country afflicted with the most infectious and virulent strain of the Bird-Flu virus, can declare it self “Free of Bird-Flu”, if no cases of the Bird-Flu appear for 21 successive days.

Think of South Africa, declaring itself “free of HIV” after 21 successive days without a new case of the AIDS!

What is more, a country can even declare one of it´s provinces “Free of Bird-Flu”, if there have been no fresh cases of the H5N1 for 21 days in that province.

It is like saying that even though I still have Malaria, I have had no problems with my right leg for a while now, therefore my right leg is free of Malaria!         

This entire drama is played by the Governments of the effected countries, due to the pressure from the  local tourism and the commercial sectors.

Obviously, a country which has it´s birds and even it´s people dropping dead from the Bird-Flu virus, is not the most desirable destination for the visitors from other countries.  

Equally important is the fact that no country wants to import poultry, eggs and other related products from a Bird-Flu inflicted country.

As a case in point, today, the 10th of July 2007, Egypt banned all poultry imports from France and Germany after the potentially fatal H5N1 strain of bird flu was discovered in birds in those countries.

A ban of import of poultry from an infected country can have a devastating effect  on       it´s entire poultry industry and so the Government comes under tremendous pressure to declare the country free of the virus as quickly as possible.

There have been cases in authoritarian countries like China and Iran of total denial of the presence of the virus, even though various branches of the Government of each country had made statements to the contrary.

Other countries such as Indonesia, have made it extremely hard for the International press to obtain any information what so ever regarding the continuing outbreaks of the H5N1, in the Poultry, in other animals as well as in the humans.

It is almost a simple case of deception by the Governments of these countries.

They are trying to say to the world community, that their country is safe to visit and to import poultry and related products from.

At best this practice would expose the International community to unnecessary risk. 

At worse, well……….  

The most amazing part of this saga is the apparent acquiescence of the WHO in it´s approval of this dangerous practice.

The declaration today, from Vietnam (which has been declaring its Bird-Flu localities one after the other as the “regulation” 21 days period passes without an outbreak) would be funny, if it were not so very dangerous for us all.

Talking about Ninh Binh, one of its provinces infected with the Bird-Flu virus, the Veterinary Department stated, “It was regrettable for Ninh Binh when two new outbreaks occurred on July 9 just when the 21 day period was about to end”

Come off it Vietnam, you have got to be pulling our collective leg!

Woman selling ducklings in Hoi An market

Here is a link to the news item from The Vietnam News Agency-

FAF Keeping the nightmare of Bird-Flu alive – British Medical Journal

Tony Delamothe, the deputy editor of the British Medical Journal (helping doctors make better decisions) is an honorable man.

He does not, I believe, wish to create a false sense of complacency in the minds of the public and more importantly in the minds of the various Governments around the world. (it takes very little, for the authorities to find alternative uses for any funds earmarked for the prevention and/or management of any Bird-flu outbreaks!)

So it was a bit strange to see the article in the esteemed British Medical Journal, discussing the “small group of people” those who promote avian flu as something that remains an urgent concern, working assiduously at “keeping the nightmare alive”.

Here is an excerpt:

“Somewhere, I imagine, there’s a small group of people proud to be counted among the Friends of Avian Flu, or FAF for short.

I suspect they have a catchy mission statement, such as “Keeping the nightmare alive,” and lapel badges of vaguely bird-like shape.

Their challenge is to keep bird flu forever in the public eye. This should be getting harder, as influenza H5N1 is proving particularly resistant to undergoing the killer mutation that would allow efficient human to human transmission of the virus. Ten years after the strain first appeared in humans, it has killed just 191 people.”

I was going to say to Mr Delamothe that the point is that H5N1 is a Bird virus and is NOT supposed to be killing any people. Not even a single human being should be killed by a Bird virus. I was then going to show the slow but steady growth of the number of victims and the spread of the virus over the last few years from the east to the West.

I was going to remind him that it is the very public concern for the growing number of the Bird-Flu outbreaks, that has started to see better practices of managing poultry at the Poultry Factory Farms.

There was a lot more I was going to point out to Mr Delamothe.

However, with the outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in Germany and France this week, in addition to many other countries that have been afflicted with the Bird-Flu virus for some time now, there does not seem to be any need for any one to argue this point with Mr Delamothe.

I would like to ask Mr Tony Delamothe only this.

In view of the events this week, can he guaranty that avian flu is something that DOES NOT remain an urgent concern?

If not, then I wonder if he has the courage to apologise for his remarks in that article in the British Medical Journal now.

How about it Mr Delamothe?

By the way, speaking of- helping doctors make better decisions- I personally recall the roll of the BMJ and the Medical Establishment, in keeping the sales of the vastly expensive peptic ulcers medicines, going for years after Drs Marshall and Warren showed that the cause of the disease was a bacterium that lived in stomachs and that the disease could be cured with simple inexpensive antibiotics.

I remember all kinds of articles all over the place by “experts”, dismissing the notion outright that a living organism could survive in such a hostile environment as the stomach. The stomach juices are so acidic, they said, that no living organism could survive in such a hostile environment! 

Here is the full article from the British Medical Journal, which is of course, always- helping doctors make better decisions.

“H5N1 avian influenza virus will continue to spread” United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said H5N1 avian influenza virus is entrenched in some places and will continue to spread, despite improved control efforts.

Czech, German Bird Flu Have Same OriginAs if to underscore the message, new poultry outbreaks were reported today in the Czech Republic and Bangladesh, and more wild birds were reported infected in Germany.

Joseph Domenech, the FAO’s chief veterinary officer, said the response to the virus has improved significantly over the past 3 years, but it remains entrenched in several countries and will continue to spread, according to an FAO news release.

Domenech spoke at a press conference in Rome on the first day of the Technical Meeting on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Human H5N1 Infection, which continues through Jun 29. The meeting was organized by the FAO and several other international agencies.

He said that except in Egypt and Indonesia, human H5N1 cases have been very sporadic. “This achievement is the most important demonstration of the effects of worldwide efforts to contain the H5N1 virus,” he said.

In the approximately 15 countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East where the virus has cropped up in the past 6 months, it was rapidly detected and eliminated or controlled, Domenech said.

“Most countries have been very open about new outbreaks,” he said. “They are better prepared today and have improved their response systems.”

But Domenech cited the recent H5N1 outbreaks in birds in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, the Czech Republic, and Germany as illustrations of the need to shun complacency. The threat of a human flu pandemic can’t be ruled out as long as the disease persists in poultry, he said.

He said containment and eradication of the virus will demand a long-term financial and political commitment, especially in the face of the “high risk poultry production and marketing practices that still continue in many countries.” For example, Indonesia has more than 13,000 live poultry markets where birds from different places are brought together.

Domenech also called for increased monitoring of the virus, especially in countries that vaccinate poultry.

“The H5N1 virus is not stable and keeps constantly changing. On one occasion in China last year a new virus strain appeared with different immunologic characteristics which made it necessary to modify vaccines used in the region concerned,” he said. “This emergence of a new strain may have happened again more recently in Indonesia.”

Here is the link to the full article by CIDRAP: