January 4, 2009

Bird flu ‘simmers’ despite lower numbers

Two years after a big decline in the number of confirmed human deaths from H5N1 bird flu, cases are still turning up in poultry, U.N. health officials say.

The virus has resurfaced in poultry in Hong Kong for the first time in six years and has also turned up in four human patients in Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. New poultry outbreaks were also observed in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and mainland China.

Fewer countries overall, however, are reporting outbreaks among poultry. The Times cited an October United Nations report crediting improvements in the last few years to stepped-up surveillance and rapid culling of potentially infected poultry.

Even with the gains, the bird flu virus has continued to at the very least smolder, and many times flare up since a chain of outbreaks began in 2003, Michael Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota told the newspaper.

What alarms me is that we have developed a sense of pandemic-preparedness fatigue, he said.