Plan to fight bird flue [Archives:2005/887/Front Page]

October 20 2005


SANA'A – Oct. 17 – The general manager of live stock in the Ministry for Agriculture, Dr. Ghalab Al-Ariany, stated yesterday that many dead immigrant birds has been found at the coast of Hadramut. The cause of the dead birds are still unclear, but the ministry is investigating the incident.

This statement came after the urgent meeting chaired by the minister of Public Health and Population, Dr Mohamed Yahya al-Naamy, and attended by the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Hassan Suweid, and members of the technical committee with officials and specialists from both ministries. Yemen has laid out a national emergency plan in order to confront the bird flu world crisis. The plan has already been approved by the Yemeni council of ministers to face the bird flu and limit its entrance into Yemeni territories via land, air and sea ports.

In its last session, the cabinet listened to a report dealing with the measures taken by concerned parties to protect people from this virus. The cabinet ordered the Ministries of Health and Agriculture to form an operation room for this matter, regarding banning of the import of all kinds of birds, intensification of monitoring of water stations of migrating birds to prevent them from bringing Yemen the dreaded bird flu that has appeared in a number of countries including some Middle East regions. Since Yemen hosts many species of migrants birds which may carry on the virus, therefore the cabinet asked the local authority of the coastline cities to prevent hunting birds and check if migrated birds bear the disease.

The meeting called for increased media interest on the matter to enlighten people about the epidemic, the way it spreads, and how to avoid contamination.

There are 15 types of bird flu. The type currently causing concern is the deadly strain called H5N1. Even within the H5N1 strain, variations are seen, and slightly different strains are being seen to have different effects. Migrating wildfowl, notably wild ducks, are natural carriers of the viruses, but are unlikely to actually develop an infection. Domestic birds are particularly susceptible in epidemics.

Bird flu was thought to only infect birds until the first human cases were seen in Hong Kong in 1997. Humans catch the disease through close contact with live infected birds. Birds excrete the virus in their faeces, which dries, becomes pulverised, and is then inhaled.

Symptoms are similar to other types of flu – fever, sore throats and coughs. People can also develop conjunctivitis. Researchers are now concerned because scientists who studied a case in Vietnam found out that the virus can affect all parts of the body, not just the lungs. This could mean that many illnesses, and even deaths, thought to have been caused by something else, may have been due to the bird flu virus. A case in Thailand indicated the probable transmission of the virus from a girl who infected her mother, who also died. The girl's aunt, who was also infected, survived the virus.

UK virology expert, Professor John Oxford, says that these cases indicates that the basic virus can be passed between humans, and predicts that similar small clusters of cases will be seen again. Other cases also indicates that the bird flu can be passed from human to human. In 2004, two sisters died in Vietnam after possibly contracting bird flu from their brother who had died from an unidentified respiratory illness. In a similar case in Hong Kong in 1997, a doctor possibly caught the disease from a patient with the H5N1 virus – but it was never conclusively proved. Experts are concerned that this could happen. But in the Thai case, the virus was only passed to close relatives and spread no further.

In addition, it had not combined with a form of human flu. And this is the real fear. Experts believe the virus could exchange genes with a human flu virus if a person was simultaneously infected with both. The more this double infection happens, the higher the chance that a new virus could be created and be passed from person to person.

Concern has also been raised by research which showed that the virus which caused the 1918 pandemic was a bird flu virus. Once the virus gained the ability to pass easily between humans the results could be catastrophic.

Worldwide, experts predict anything between two million and 50 million deaths. However, they say that bird flu is not a food-borne virus, so eating chicken is safe. The only people thought to be at risk are those involved in the slaughter and preparation of meat that might be infected.

However, to be absolutely safe, the World Health Organization recommends that all meat should be cooked to a temperature of at least 70C. Eggs should also be thoroughly cooked.

Some citizens expressed their anger about the slow reaction of the ministry after the international announcement of the spread of the disease. They feel that plans are being made, but no practical measures are being taken. They have requested that the minister establish a supervising body that can watch the work of the two ministries' committee.