Jul 8, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – In the face of new outbreaks, the World Health Organization (WHO) today expressed renewed concern about the implications of H5N1 avian influenza for human health and appealed for increased scrutiny of infections in animals and humans.The latest outbreaks in China and Vietnam, along with two new research reports, suggest that the virus is more widespread and may be more difficult to eliminate than was previously thought, the WHO said. The agency said its laboratory network needs virus isolates and clinical specimens from all the recent outbreaks so it can better monitor the circulating strains.As it has before, the WHO expressed concern that influenza A(H5N1) could acquire the ability to spread readily from person to person, which could lead to a global flu pandemic. In the widespread outbreaks in East Asia earlier this year, the virus jumped to humans, causing at least 34 cases and 23 deaths. But all the human patients apparently acquired the virus directly from birds.In recent weeks, new outbreaks of avian flu have been reported in Vietnam, China, and Thailand. No new human cases have been reported, however. Chinese officials have said they confirmed the presence of H5N1 virus in their outbreak.The WHO noted that a recent report by Chinese researchers indicates that the virus appears to be widespread in domestic ducks in southern China. The researchers also found that the virus has been causing increasingly severe disease, but that finding was based on tests in mice and may not have direct implications for humans, the WHO said. The article was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (see link below).Another report, published this week in Nature, “indicates domestic and wild birds in the region may have contributed to the increasing spread of the virus and suggests that the virus is gaining a stronger foothold in the region,” the WHO said. “These observations suggest that control of the virus may be even more difficult than thought in the spring.”The statement went on to say that known risk-management tools can control poultry outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu, though it may take months or years to control the virus completely. But the risk to human health is not well understood, and tools for assessing that risk are less developed, the agency said.It is not clear why, after circulating in Asia for several years, the virus has not picked up the ability to infect humans easily, the WHO said. The agency called for, and offered to help with, urgent “risk assessment activities, including surveillance in animals and humans, and strain analysis.””More knowledge of the virus could be acquired if WHO had full access to all virus isolates and clinical specimens from recent outbreaks,” officials said. “All H5N1 viruses are not the same, and how they differ could provide important insights.” For example, the avian flu virus in Indonesia differs slightly from those in Vietnam and Thailand, but the significance of the difference is unknown.The WHO said it is continuing pandemic preparedness efforts that were launched during the avian flu outbreaks earlier this year. The agency is collaborating with scientists and the pharmaceutical industry to monitor changes in the virus’s susceptibility to antiviral drugs. In addition, two US vaccine manufacturers have produced a supply of trial vaccine for pandemic flu. Samples from recent outbreaks would help the WHO assess the adequacy of the strain used in the pandemic vaccine, officials said.The WHO also said:Governments should provide human flu vaccinations to workers who cull poultry to control outbreaks.Everyone exposed to infected birds should be provided with antivirals.Human trials of experimental pandemic flu vaccines should be accelerated.See also:Jul 8 WHO statementhttp://www.who.int/csr/don/2004_07_08/en/Abstract of study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scienceshttp://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0403212101v1?etoc
GROS ISLET, St Lucia (CMC) – West Indies will hope to avoid any embarrassing hiccups and impose their obvious superiority on minnows Afghanistan when the two teams meet in the opening day/night One-Day International of the three-match series here today.The preceding Twenty20 series, which ended in a clean sweep for the hosts, highlighted the massive gulf between the two sides and the one-day side will be heavily favoured to extend that success in the three contests at the Darren Sammy National Stadium.More significantly, the series – regardless of the weakness of the opposition – offers West Indies a golden opportunity to turn the page on a recent run of troubling results that have seen them win just once in their last 12 outings in bilateral series.And captain Jason Holder was quick to reiterate the importance of the tour, urging his players to be at their best and to ensure a series win.“I think we all know the importance of this series. We’ve just come off the Tests, a tough loss against Pakistan in the last one-day series,” the all-rounder said here yesterday.“I felt we showed some promise there. We had a lot of good positives coming out of that series but we didn’t get over the line in terms of the end result.“I think coming into this series is an opportunity to win a series so the guys have to be very disciplined, always set up our process boxes and once we tick them, more often than not we’ll come out on the winning end.”The Windies are currently ranked ninth in the international one-day rankings, only above Afghanistan in 10th and Zimbabwe in 11th. It is a ranking that caused them to miss out on the ongoing Champions Trophy in England and forced them to turn their attention to the Asian side.Regardless of the weakness of the opposition, however, Holder said he had much regard for their bowling attack, one which included the likes of exciting teenage leg-spinner Rashid Khan.He explained while he was keen on using the series to give each member of his 13-man squad a chance to play, winning was the chief priority and this would be the ultimate focus of the series.“The first objective is to win the series and I think once we win the series then you can afford to give everybody the opportunity to play but we must play it (series) seriously,” Holder said.“It is a very important series. We’ve got to beat Afghanistan. They’ve got a very good bowling attack in my opinion and if we are complacent, that could hamper us. I am very, very confident about this tour.“This is an opportunity for the guys to stamp their authority and get some runs underneath their belts.”The venue has not been a happy hunting ground for West Indies in the past, providing just one win in 11 ODIs in the last nine years.Holder, however, said he expected his side to make the most of the excellent conditions at the ground to undermine Afghanistan.“The history here in St Lucia offers a bit for the faster bowlers up front but having said that, if you are a batman and you get past that first half an hour, it becomes an easier track,” Holder pointed out.“I wouldn’t say easy-paced but the pace is consistent and the bounce is consistent … and I think it has generally been a good wicket here. We have some fast bowlers in our side who can extract some pace and bounce and we expect that from them.”Today’s contest bowls off at 14:30hrs.