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
The fight for the Spanish league title is tighter than ever thanks to a surprise collapse by Barcelona atop the standings. The once-unbeatable Barcelona fell to Valencia 2-1 at the Camp Nou on Sunday, losing its third straight game to allow Atletico Madrid to draw level on points with five rounds to go.Atletico erased Barcelona’s lead by beating Granada 3-0 earlier Sunday. Real Madrid is only one point behind after winning 5-1 at last-place Getafe on Saturday.Atletico was trailing by nine points three rounds ago, and Real Madrid was 12 points back four games ago.At the time, Barcelona was cruising toward a repeat of the Champions League, Spanish league and Copa del Rey treble. But Luis Enrique’s squad has won only one of its last six games, being eliminated by Atletico in the Champions League quarterfinals and seeing its league lead collapse. Its 39-game unbeaten streak ended with a home loss to Real Madrid earlier this month.”We have to remain strong,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “We need to win the last five games and I know we can do it.”Atletico has three of its last five games at home, while Barcelona will play away three times. Real Madrid also is away in three of its last five matches. Barcelona remains ahead in the standings on tiebreakers.”It will be hard,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “We only have one option in our next games, which is to win, win and win.”Valencia opened the scoring after Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic deflected a cross into his own net in the 26th minute. Midfielder Dani Parejo then provided a perfect pass for Santi Mina’s precise shot into the far corner in first-half injury time.advertisementLionel Messi scored his 500th career goal in the 63rd to end a five-game scoring slump that was his worst with Barcelona in five years. He completed a cross by Jordi Alba to keep his team’s hopes alive, but it was not able to capitalize on its chances of equalizing.”We created a lot of chances but we were unlucky,” Luis Enrique said. “We lost three points that we deserved to win. It’s part of football.”Valencia had several opportunities to put the game away in counterattacks, but the best scoring chance of the match was squandered by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique in the 89th. He had only the goalkeeper to beat but missed from close range.Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves made a few great saves to help secure the win, including a spectacular one after a Rakitic shot from inside the area in the 75th.”Luck was on Valencia’s side,” Rakitic said. “We had our chances, but the ball just didn’t go in.”Barcelona had also squandered a lot of chances in the 1-0 loss at Real Sociedad in the previous round. Its last win was a 3-1 victory against Arsenal in the round of 16 of the Champions League on March 16.It was the second win in a row for Valencia after four straight losses, moving the club further away from the relegation zone. It has 40 points from 33 games and is in 12th place. It was only the team’s third game under new coach Pako Ayestaran, who replaced the fired Gary Neville.Atletico easily defeated Granada at the Vicente Calderon Stadium with goals by Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion in the 15th, Fernando Torres in the 59th and Angel Correa in the 83rd.The team’s seventh win in eight league games put it alongside Barcelona on 76 points. Sunday’s loss kept Granada with 30 points from 33 games, only one point clear of the relegation zone.Earlier Sunday, fifth-place Athletic Bilbao earned a 1-0 win at eighth-place Malaga to move within six points of fourth-place Villarreal, which lost 2-1 at Rayo Vallecano.Seventh-place Sevilla conceded a late equalizer in a 1-1 home draw against Deportivo La Coruna.