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Super Flu Fear as Swine Strain Moves to Turkeys
From Sydney Morning Herald
Two Chilean poultry farms are under quarantine after swine flu was detected in turkeys, the first case of the virus being found in birds, the nation's health ministry and US health officials said yesterday.
Scientists are concerned the virus may combine with the H5N1 bird flu virus, making a more dangerous and easily transmitted strain.
Avian flu has killed more than half the humans who caught it.
Sopraval SA, the Santiago-based producer of poultry, beef and pork products, said agricultural authorities identified the virus, also known as H1N1, in turkeys on two of its farms. The flu was identified after workers noticed a drop in egg production, said Jay Butler, director of the H1N1 task force for the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He said the genetic make-up of H1N1 enabled the virus to be carried in birds.
Genetic combination of the two viruses ''has not been documented, but that is certainly a concern if a bird is co-infected with both strains'', Dr Butler said. ''That's a theoretical possibility that we've known existed.''
Preliminary studies by Chile's Public Health Institute showed that turkeys in the Valparaiso Region were infected with the swine flu virus, Carlos Pavletic, a Chilean health ministry official, said.
Initial tests found the birds do not have avian flu.
Swine flu, which causes symptoms similar to seasonal influenza strains, has swept across the globe faster than any other pandemic flu, reaching more than 170 countries and territories in the four months since being identified, the World Health Organisation said.
The H5N1 bird flu virus, which isn't easily transmitted among people, has killed 61 per cent of the 432 people infected since 2003.
Chilean authorities are acting to contain the outbreak by limiting the turkeys' contact with people and wildlife.
In new advice to doctors, WHO said healthy people who caught swine flu did not need antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu but the young, the old and the pregnant did.
The UN health agency said people who are otherwise healthy with mild to moderate cases of swine flu did not need the popular drug.
But people thought to be at risk for complications from swine flu - children less than five years old, pregnant women, people over 65 and those with health problems such as heart disease, HIV or diabetes - should receive the drug, WHO said.
WHO also recommended that all patients, including children, who have severe or worsening cases of swine flu, with breathing difficulties, chest pain or severe weakness, should get Tamiflu immediately, perhaps in higher doses than now used.
The advice contradicts some current government policies, such as those in England, whose health agency liberally hands out Tamiflu to healthy people with swine flu. Since the British set up a national flu service in July to deal with the surge of cases, Tamiflu has been available to anyone suspected of having the disease, including the healthy.
WHO also warned the global spread of swine flu would endanger more lives as it sped up over the northern autumn and winter - Japan confirmed its third death last week - and governments must boost preparations for a swift response to a coming explosion of cases.
It has estimated that as many as 2 billion people could become infected over the next two years with swine flu - nearly a third of the world's population.
At its summer peak, British authorities guessed there were about 110,000 new cases of swine flu every week. The number of new cases dropped last week to about 11,000, but the autumn-winter flu season has not yet begun.
Boasting that Britain had the world's largest supply of Tamiflu, enough to cover 80 per cent of its nearly 61 million people, Health Minister Andy Burnham promised the drug would be available to anyone who needed it.
People in England who call the national flu line can get Tamiflu without seeing a doctor - it is given out by call centre operators who have no medical training. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales decided not to participate in the swine flu phone line. Experts have criticised England's approach, warning that blanketing the population with Tamiflu increases the chances of resistant strains emerging.
Flu expert Hugh Pennington of the University of Aberdeen called the strategy ''a very big experiment'' and said it was out of step with the rest of the world.
WHO said most patients infected with swine flu recovered within a week without any medical treatment. Still, about 40 per cent of the severe swine flu cases are occurring in previously healthy children and adults, usually under 50 years of age.
Meanwhile, US health officials yesterday said that data from clinical trials to assess the safety and effectiveness of swine flu vaccines would start to become available in mid-September.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said the vaccine might require two doses, with results from tests of the second dose expected in mid-October.
''Things seem to be going well,'' Dr Fauci said. ''There are no red flags regarding safety.''
Adverse reactions to the shots, of which there were ''essentially none'', included a ''swollen arm that you would expect, a little bit of hurt at the site, which you see with almost every vaccine'', he said.
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