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Nation must remain alert to bird flu threat
(China Daily) Updated:2006-01-16 09:45

  The bird flu death toll on the Chinese mainland has risen to five, after two more people died of the H5N1 virus last week. The situation is also very serious in Turkey, where 18 people have reportedly been infected with the virus, of whom two have died.

  From November 16 last year, when the first human infection on the mainland was reported, there have been eight confirmed cases of avian influenza.

  Two more deaths are a warning that the situation is still serious, and that we must never slacken efforts in monitoring and preventative work.

  Xinhua News Agency quoted a notice from the Ministry of Health saying no contact with wild birds or domestic fowl was reported in some instances of infection at home and abroad.

  This indicates there may be unknown sources of infection, which has made monitoring and preventative work even more difficult.

  Spring Festival is just around the corner, traditionally when families get together for celebrations.

  Millions of Chinese will be on the move, which could make it easier for a virus such as H5N1 to be passed on.

  More than 10 billion trips are expected to be made by train, bus, air and ship passengers from the middle of this month to early February.

  Although we have established bird flu monitoring stations across the country, more efforts are needed to upgrade monitoring and preventative measures during this special period.

  Measures should be taken to sterilize passenger vehicles and waiting rooms at railway stations, airports and bus stations. Medical teams should be ready to handle suspected cases among travellers.

  Given the fact that some infected patients in Ankara displayed only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all although they have been found to carry the virus, we should watch out to see if there are such cases that have gone unnoticed.

  Since there is so much to discover about how the H5N1 strain spreads among birds, how humans are infected and whether there are different types of the virus, our vigilance must be maintained.

  When travellers return to work after Spring Festival, birds are likely to be on the move as well, coming from south to north in early spring; and some may have flown from other countries.

  It is possible some of these migrating birds may carry bird flu and therefore pose a threat to other birds and humans alike.

  We must have contingency plans for dealing with possible outbreaks among domestic fowl.

  It is good news that the testing of vaccines against avian influenza is in the pipeline. Those that have been injected with the vaccines on a trial basis have not suffered any negative effects.

  The trials are continuing, but it will take time before the vaccines are used on a clinical basis.

  Experience from fighting SARS has shown that transparency in information, efficient monitoring and preventative measures and effective quarantine of those infected will help prevent a pandemic.




















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