Bird flu in Tibet, Kazakhstan

India sounds caution; nations building drug stockpile

Published: Thursday 15 September 2005

the h5n1 strain of bird flu virus, which is dangerous for human beings, is spreading across Asia, according to official reports submitted to the World Organisation for Animal Health (oie) by China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mangolia. Laboratory tests of the outbreaks in these countries show that the strain is the same as the one found in migratory birds in China.

Kazakhstan's agriculture ministry, in its August 9, 2005, report to oie, confirmed that a recent outbreak of avian flu in Pavlodar province involved the highly pathogenic h5n1 strain. Simultaneously, China, in its report, also confirmed the spread of bird flu in Tibet. This virus was likely to be the h5n1 strain found in migratory birds at Qinghai Lake.

This is the third region in China to be hit by h5n1, after the western Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces. Mongolia also witnessed the death of 89 migratory birds due to the highly pathogenic avian influenza 'type a ' at two lakes in the country's north: the virus strain is yet to be determined. Earlier, Russia reported the spread of the h5n1 strain in Siberia (see Down To Earth , 'Human killer strain', August 31, 2005, p 12).

Indian experts fear migratory birds may carry the virus to the country. But the Union Ministry of Agriculture confirms that no case has been reported yet. It has, however, warned health and wildlife officials across the country to watch for bird flu symptoms among migratory birds coming from China and other affected regions. The High Security Animal Disease Lab in Bhopal, the only Indian laboratory to test avian influenza, says it has not received any warning, but, as a precaution, it has decided to get bird samples from states like Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim and Arunchal Pradesh after the h5n1 virus was found in Tibet.

Till date, the h5n1 strain has already killed over 60 people in South East Asia. It has also led to the death of 150 million birds in Asia and caused a loss of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the Sixth Global Conference on Health Promotion, held in Bangkok, Thailand, health ministers South East Asian nations agreed on August 11, 2005, to build a regional stockpile of the anti-bird flu drug, Tamiflu. Though details have still to be worked out, the plan is to ensure the drug's supply to the site of any human outbreak in the region within 24 hours.

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