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F.ood & H.ealth : B.iological A.gents Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Spain confirms its first case of H5N1 bird flu
By Kathy Jones
Jul 7, 2006, 13:50

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7 July, ( - The Spanish Agriculture ministry announced that the dreaded H5N1 bird flu has been detected for the first time in the country in a great crested grebe found dead in the northern province of Alava.

The National Laboratory at Algete near Madrid confirmed that the grebe had harbored the H5N1 virus. Spain joins Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria as the European countries reporting outbreaks of bird flu, which has mostly infected swans.

The case should not trigger any concern about the safety of poultry as the bird flu virus was not detected in poultry, according to Spanish authorities. Domestic poultry was deemed safe for consumption.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said "I would like to make clear to citizens that there is no reason for alarm or for changing habits in our daily life." The bird flu case was veterinary, she added.

In response, a protective area of 2 miles has been declared outside the area where the bird was found dead to prevent the virus from further spreading. "We have reinforced monitoring of the countryside in order to detect any deaths among wild birds as soon as possible," the Agriculture ministry added in a statement.

Late last year, when bird flu was spreading all over the place, Spanish officials had already warned that it was a matter of time avian flu spreads to the country. This was because Spain is on a key migration route of birds flying north from Africa.

Authorities had already instituted some key measures including bans on outdoor poultry farming in areas near marshlands.

In related news, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has warned that people should be ready for seasonal bird flu. Even though the risk of H5N1 spreading to humans is low, the agency felt it was when not if that a p andemic could start.

"Even if we had a major outbreak on H5N1 in poultry, the risk for EU citizens would still be low," Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the agency told reporters. "It may be a low-level threat but one that we must take very seriously. In birds, it has peaked for now but it is very likely it will come back." She added that Europeans must get used to the seasonal pattern.

The majority of human cases of bird flu till date have been associated with close contact with poultry animals. Even though the World Health Organization admitted that a partial human-to-human transmission occurred in an Indonesian cluster, no large-scale cases have come to light.

"Any outbreak in birds carries a risk of humans getting infected," Jakab said. "The more human exposure to H5N1 around the bird, the more opportunity there is for the virus to mutate. We have to prevent every human case."

Cases of bird flu peaked in poultry early 2006 in the European Union, but the p andemic did not occur. The European Commission, the EU executive had asked people to be ready for an outbreak.

"The much-feared explosion of cases failed to take place," said Robert Madelin, director-general of the Commission's health and consumer protection department. "We have stepped up biosecurity measures since last autumn. A migratory season is now known to be a risk factor. We will be extremely vigilant (in the autumn) and hope to avoid a multiplication of cases."

A recent report released by the WHO also alluded to the s easonal bird flu pattern. It said that if the current pattern holds, then there is likely to be an explosion of cases towards the end of 2006 and early 2007. Some of the other points in the report included:

* The majority of human bird flu cases occurred among people aged 10 to 29 years.

* A typical patient was hospitalized four days after falling ill.

* But 56 percent of the victims died five days after being hospitalized.

* The lowest fatality rates were in people aged 50 and over.

* Overall the highest fatalities were seen in 2004 at 73 percent, but it has already hit 63 percent in 2006.

* Assessment of mortality rates and the time intervals between symptom onset and hospitalization and between symptom onset and death suggests that the illness pattern has not changed substantially during the three years.

Bird flu

* The bird flu virus originated in Hong Kong in 1997 and disappeared after that. It reemerged in 2003 and has since caused havoc worldwide.

* The H5N1 virus is primarily found in birds, but has jumped to humans and has so far caused the death of 127 people after reemerging in 2003.

* This year alone the disease has spread like wild fire and has hit many parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. The source of the virus remains a mystery with some scientists attributing it to wild birds that migrate from time to time.

* Till now the virus has only been transmitted after close contact with infected birds and coming in contact with saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.

* The fear is that if the virus mutates to an easily transmissible form between humans it would trigger a pandemic worldwide.

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