Blame it on the Internet, the anxiety of life in the 21st century, or a volatile combination of the two, but publication of a minor study by a South Korean academic last spring has apparently triggered a minor run on kimchi, a daily staple of the Korean diet that the bland-of-palate are likely to avoid like a global pandemic.
Which presents a potentially difficult choice given the work of Kang Sa-Ouk of Seoul National University, who took 13 chickens infected with avian flu virus and a couple of other diseases, fed them kimchi juice and found that 11 of the birds recovered.
Indonesia's bird flu death toll may have risen to 12 with the death of a 48-year-old man in Central Java who was strongly suspected of being infected with the virus, a health official said Friday.
The man was admitted to the Tidar General Hospital in Central Java town of Magelang suffering high fever and respiratory problems, said Nurul Safariah, head of the city's health agency.She said the man died after 10 hours of treatment.
"We have sent his blood samples to be tested by the national bird flu monitoring center in Jakarta, which will further send the samples to the (World Health Organization-affiliated) lab in Hong Kong," Safariah told AFP.
The WHO and other international health bodies have called on China to pass on animal samples of the bird flu virus for testing, which China has not done.
"It means that there is a question mark that hangs over the progress of the virus in China," said Roy Wadia, the WHO's Beijing-based spokesman. "It's perhaps more significant to get animal viruses, because this virus is still something that is primarily in the animal sector."
The survey, taken this month in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the Hong Kong special administrative region, asked people to identify their biggest concerns from a list that included bird flu, terrorism, the war in Iraq/Middle East situation, economic slowdown/higher interest rates, global warming/climate change, pollution and AIDS.
The debate on whether wild birds help spread the H5N1 virus around the world has made many headlines in recent days. Some have made arguments such as this one:
Millions of waterbirds flew already from Asia to the Middle East and Africa. However, the flu didn't travel with them, so far. An explanation for this might be that contaminated birds die quickly. The global trade in millions of chickens and other poultry might be a much bigger risk. Wetlands International calls for additional attention for the risks of the bio-industry and the global trade of poultry.
Revere at Effect Measure evaluates this argument critically.
I find it extremely unlikely that the virus is spread mainly through poultry trade. In Romania the first cases of bird flu were detected in remote villages that trade very little with anyone. The villages were in the Danube delta, a huge wetland packed with migratory birds. We saw similar stories in Russia, Turkey, or Qinghai Lake. Migratory birds were the likely vectors in all these cases.
China is most likely using substandard poultry vaccine or not enough good vaccine, which would explain recent outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus in poultry, a prominent virologist said on Thursday.
[...] "If you use a good vaccine you can prevent the transmission within poultry and to humans. But if they have been using vaccines now (in China) for several years, why is there so much bird flu?" Webster told Reuters in Hong Kong.
"There is bad vaccine that stops the disease in the bird but the bird goes on pooping out virus and maintaining it and changing it. And I think this is what is going on in China.
"It has to be. Either there is not enough vaccine being used or there is substandard vaccine being used. Probably both."
Webster praised China's ambitious plan to vaccinate all its chickens, but also called for agricultural vaccines to be standardized.
Turkey has reported an outbreak of avian influenza in chickens, less than a month after declaring its territory free of the virus, and said it had culled 359 birds as a precautionary measure.
In a statement released late on Tuesday, the Agriculture Ministry said it had imposed quarantine in the affected area of Igdir, near Turkey's far eastern border with Armenia, after detecting a strain of the bird flu virus in dead chickens.
The strain has been identified as the H5 type but authorities are conducting further tests to establish whether it is the deadly H5N1 strain that has killed some 70 people in Asia since 2003 and forced the slaughter of millions of birds.
Whether or not drug companies really need a liability shield is concealed in their proprietary balance sheets. But there aren't many companies that can make pandemic flu vaccines, and history has shown that they just won't make themunless we provide this shield. In 1976, President Ford ordered mass immunization following the detection of the "swine flu" influenza virus in an Army recruit who died from it. That year, production of the vaccine was delayed several months because the drug industry could not get insurance. Congress finally underwrote the campaign, and the insurance industry turned out to have been right—the vaccine was associated with an unusual paralytic disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome. The federal government had to handle 5,000-plus claims from allegedly vaccine-injured patients and paid out nearly $100 million in compensation.
[...] But Congress' treatment of pandemic flu vaccine makers takes risk-protection to an excessive level. The bill would make it impossible to sue a vaccine or antiviral drug-maker without proof of "willful misconduct." This will be almost impossible to prove, because the bill stipulates that any claim of injury would be adjudicated not by judges, with their investigatory powers, but by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill protects companies without establishing a fund to pay potential vaccine victims. This is not a reassuring decision, and since vaccination programs rely on public trust, it is a remarkably shortsighted one. Even drug company officials were worried that the measure could further harm their reputation and diminish confidence in vaccines. Apparently, however, House budget hawks were adamant that the bill contain no compensation provision that costs money and thus adds to the federal deficit.
Flu vaccines today are safer than they were in 1976. But it should be the duty of experts on vaccine safety, and not HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, to decide whether a bad outcome after vaccination was caused by the vaccine. In the battle against dangerous bugs, our troops—which is to say, ourselves—deserve better.