Bird Flu causes egg shortage in Australia

The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Dec 2013. Australia is facing an egg shortage ahead of the peak holiday season after an outbreak of bird flu shut down two poultry farms. About 450,000 chickens have been destroyed at a free range and caged egg farm in Young, NSW, creating a national shortfall, which will cause prices to rise and take six to 12 months to abate. The virus is not the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, which has killed humans, nor is it closely related, the NSW Department of Primary Industries said. But it has significantly dented supply and put pressure on prices.

Melbourne-based Farm Pride Foods, which is one of Australia’s biggest egg processors, has had to cancel orders, with its sales plunging between 8 and 9 per cent compared with the same time last year. NSW Farmers Association Egg Committee chair Bede Burke said demand for eggs normally doubled in the week before Christmas ‘‘but this year the eggs won’t be there’’. ‘‘The comfort level for eggs in NSW is about 1.4 million dozen to fill the cool rooms at the end of the week. We are well under that now, down about 15 per cent,’’ Mr Burke said.

‘‘What it means is … retailers might not have 600 gram free range packs, or 800 gram caged eggs. They might still have eggs but not exactly in that same category. So consumers might have to switch from the normal egg they buy to another brand or category to get through that period.’’ Mr Burke said the shortage had already created a lift in farm gate prices, which have risen 10 cents a dozen. He said that would filter through to retailers. The outbreak was detected in late October at the Langfield Pastoral Company, about 27 kilometres north-east of Young in south-west NSW. Mr Burke said the farm was a ‘‘world class facility’’ and an outbreak of an exotic disease is something all farmers feared, particularly as more birds become free to roam. It is understood the virus originated at the property’s free range farm and soon spread to its neighbouring caged farm.

Farm Pride sales and marketing manager Ian Savenake said Langfield supplied between 3 and 4 per cent of the national market. He said the stock in Farm Pride’s cool room in Melbourne had dwindled significantly. ‘‘I probably have a day’s worth of fridge at the moment tops, whereas this time last year we had five days’ worth of stock so it’s going to be a tighter Christmas,’’ Mr Savenake said. ‘‘There’s quite a lift in demand with just people baking and entertaining. But we are cutting orders at the moment. We just can’t supply everyone’s order in full.’’ The DPI has quarantined both farms, which will remain shut for several weeks. Mr Savenake said it would take some time for the farms to repopulate their stock, because they couldn’t replace the 450,000 chickens all at once. ‘‘Normally you stagger 50,000 every month, so I’m guessing at least six to 12 months, depending on how quickly they can buy the day old chicks.’’

In a statement the DPI said the NSW Food Authority confirmed that there no food safety issues and poultry and eggs remained safe to eat. NSW chief veterinary officer Ian Roth said it appeared the virus had been confined to the two properties. ‘‘There is no indication that the virus has spread beyond the two properties, and the DPI is working with the owners to recommence operations,’’ Dr Roth said. A Woolworths spokeswoman said: “Customers in NSW and Victoria may notice some gaps in egg supply in stores. We have been working with our suppliers to maintain supply and minimise any impact on customers”.


First Human Becomes Infected By H6N1 Bird Flu In Taiwan

A new bird flu strain called H6N1 has infected its first human. Taiwanese researchers are reporting the new bird flu appeared in a 20-year-old woman from central Taiwan. The woman had been working in a delicatessen before she began experiencing flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath. She was then hospitalized in May 2013.

She has since fully recovered following treatment with antiviral drugs. The woman had not traveled abroad three months prior to the infection, and she said she had not been in close contact with poultry or wild birds. Interviews with 36 relatives and friends of the woman found no other cases of H6N1. Researchers say the source of her infection remains unknown.


With H7N9 vaccine, China flexes scientific muscle

The Diplomate online, November 7, 2013, by Tyler Roney. On Tuesday, a three-year-old boy was diagnosed with the dreaded H7N9 bird flu in Guangdong Province in southern China, and some are warning that more cases are on the way as the temperature drops. Previous bouts of flu hysteria and panic resulted in nothing more than small outbreaks; as such, there is little reason to believe that these most recent warnings will be any different. However, in many ways, the H7N9 problem is China-specific, which has allowed it to flex its scientific muscles.

Last month saw serious advances on the H7N9 front, with China’s contributions outpacing many other nations, in no small part because China is on the front lines of bird flu outbreaks. In fact, China announced a vaccine for the H7N9 bird flu virus late last month. This is an impressive feat considering that they only started research on the vaccine in April when they isolated the H7N9 virus via a throat swab from an infected patient. So far, the vaccine has been successful on ferrets, which can spread the virus via respiratory droplets—a discovery also made by Chinese scientists.

All but one of this year’s cases of H7N9 have been in mainland China (the other was next door in Taiwan), so China has a unique interest in stamping out the virus. As of the end of October, the National Health and Family Planning Commission confirmed 136 cases and 45 fatalities from the deadly bird flu strain. While that may seem a small sum, it means the virus has a 33.1 percent fatality rate. China is treating this disease seriously and is devoting ample resources to what it considers to be a potential pandemic. True or not, it’s an excellent example of the world’s newest research powerhouse.

With that in mind, the muscle and money that China puts into virology is being backed by brains and innovation. In fact, it’s no longer just China’s response and control measures that are making a difference; it’s research bravado. British newspaper The Independent published a scathing report in May of this year on China’s intentionally-mutated super flu strains—strains that can be used to better understand and prepare for outbreaks.

It was an understandable response to the end of an international moratorium on such research, and claims were made elsewhere that China didn’t have the biosecurity chops to keep the research in the lab. However, critics such as Lord May of Oxford, who accused China’s researchers of “appalling responsibility,” may soon find that China is well on its way to a new level of viral defense. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the risk is worth preventing a pandemic; many others agree.

Making reassortants via plasmid-based reverse genetics is a method used around the world, but foreign newspapers mainly reported one thing: that China is purposely creating super bugs to wipe out mankind. True, Chinese scientists were and are creating super bugs, particularly hybrids of H5N1 and H1N1 viruses, they were doing so to learn more about them.

For all the bluster, this research method is yielding serious results—not to mention vaccines. And, with China trailblazing its way out of bird flu frenzy, one wonders what else the Middle Kingdom can do with its newly-found scientific might.


Chinese researchers develop H7N9 flu vaccine

Source: Shanghai, Saturday, October 26, 2013. HANGZHOU, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) — Chinese researchers announced Saturday they had successfully developed the vaccine for the H7N9 bird flu virus, after the flu strain had left more than 130 people infected, with 45 fatalities reported.

Shu Yuelong, director of the Chinese National Influenza Center, said this is the first influenza vaccine ever developed by Chinese scientists.
The vaccine has provided important technical support to battle the new flu strain, making contribution to the H7N9 flu virus epidemic control all over the world, said Shu, also director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Reference and Research on Influenza.

The vaccine was jointly developed by the First Affiliated Hospital under the School of Medicine of the Zhejiang University, Hong Kong University, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Food and Drug Control, and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.
China reported the world’s first human case for H7N9 bird flu infection in March. As of Friday, a total of 136 people were confirmed to have been infected with the virus, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission. Of the infected, 45 died, representing a fatality rate of 33.1 percent.


Drug Widens Immunity to Flu

An immune suppressive drug can unexpectedly help immunized mice fight off many strains of flu. Published in The Scientist, by Ed Yong | October 20, 2013.The immunosuppressant drug rapamycin paradoxically helped to protect mice against a diverse range of influenza viruses after the animals were vaccinated against just one flu strain.

Rachael Keating from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital said it seems that rapamycin steers immune cells away from producing antibodies that strongly target a particular flu strain, in favor of those that block a wide variety of strains. Her results, published today (20 October) in Nature Immunology, could help in the long-running race to develop a universal flu vaccine.

There are many subtypes and strains of influenza, which evolve at great speed and often hybridize into entirely new strains. Current flu vaccines cannot protect against all of these strains, which forces scientists to try and predict those most likely to cause problems in the coming year. This imperfect system often leaves people unprotected against unexpected strains, let alone emerging ones that have the potential to cause pandemics. This has driven an intense search for a universal vaccine, and the new study could further help researchers working toward that goal.

In 2009, a different group unexpectedly showed that rapamycin boosted the immune response against a rodent virus in mice by increasing the quantity and quality of CD8 T-cells, which destroy infected cells. Inspired by this discovery, Keating showed that the drug provides the same benefits against flu.

She and her colleagues gave mice a dose of rapamycin while immunizing them against a strain of seasonal H3N2 flu, finding that the rodents could also ward off lethal doses of other strains, including H1N1, H5N1, and the emerging H7N9.

To the team’s surprise, CD8+ T cells were not responsible for rapamycin’s positive effects. Instead, the drug seemed to work by affecting B cells, which make antibodies, and CD4 T cells, which help in this process.

Over the course of a flu infection, B cells typically change the class of antibodies that they produce. They also fine-tune those antibodies into a narrower set, which bind very strongly to variable regions of flu viruses—regions that are usually specific to different strains. This produces an immune response that efficiently deals with a single strain, but is ill-equipped to protect against others.

“Rapamycin prevents that narrowing,” explained senior author Maureen McGargill. In treated mice, the B cells produced a more diverse repertoire of antibodies, which targeted different parts of the incoming viruses, including regions that are conserved across many strains. This provided protection against flu viruses regardless of strain.

Such cross-reactive antibodies bind relatively weakly to their targets and, under normal circumstances, would probably get outcompeted by antibodies with a narrower focus but higher affinity. “For whatever reason, antibodies to the conserved regions are very rare,” said McGargill. That’s why humans do not naturally become immune to all flu strains after just encountering one.

Rapamycin blocks mTOR, a receptor protein that affects the production of B-cells and the switch between antibody classes. How exactly this leads to a wider array of antibodies is unclear, and the team is now working to unpick the details.

“It’s interesting that it is possible to skew the response towards more broadly cross-reactive antibodies, in mice, in a particular situation,” said Sarah Gilbert, an immunologist from the University of Oxford who was not involved in the work. “[But] it is very difficult to understand how the findings in this paper relate to vaccinating humans.”

The problem is that current flu vaccines use inactivated flu viruses, while McGargill’s team used live viruses. The researchers said that their viruses—which were either inactivated at body temperature or injected into parts of the body where they cannot reproduce—effectively acted like a vaccine. But “if they wanted to see what happens with flu vaccines, they could have used a flu vaccine,” said Gilbert. “This will stimulate more research but it is not something that will easily translate into anything that can be tested in humans,” she added.

“We’re definitely not advocating that we use rapamycin [in humans],” said McGargill. However, her group’s discovery could point to other ways of achieving the same effect, perhaps by manipulating the immune system into producing more cross-reactive antibodies. “Maybe instead of trying to enhance the immune response, we need to dampen it a little bit, and allow it to be more diverse,” she added.

R. Keating et al., “The kinase mTOR modulates the antibody response to provide cross-protective immunity to lethal infection with influenza virus,” Nature Immunology, doi:10.1038/ni.2741, 2013.


China Reports New H7N9 Case, US Vaccine Trial May Have An Answer

By: Lawrence LeBlond for China’s National Health and Family Planning Center (NHFPC) has notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new laboratory-confirmed case of human infection with H7N9 avian influenza A. This is the first new case to be identified since August 11, 2013. The patient is a 35-year-old man from Zhejiang Province who was admitted to a hospital on October 8 and is in critical condition. The man, with the surname Liu, tested positive for the virus at the Zhejiang Province Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a statement. The NHFPC has also announced that a patient from Hebei previously confirmed with H7N9 has died.

To date, the WHO has been informed of 136 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H7N9. The mortality rate is currently about 33 percent, as 45 patients have so far died from this disease. Three patients remain hospitalized and 88 more have been discharged since the first cases began popping up in April. Currently there exists no sustainable human-to-human transmission of H7N9. According to the WHO, the Chinese government has continued to strictly monitor the viral outbreak and is taking a number of prevention and control measures, including strengthening of epidemic surveillance and analysis, deploying of medical treatment, conducting public risk communication and information distribution, strengthening international cooperation and exchanges, and continuing scientific research on the H7N9 virus.


While China continues its strict stance on H7N9 monitoring, an American medical research team is working to bring avian influenza vaccinations to the table. Researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY are currently recruiting 48 participants for an isolation-style study to test live-virus bird flu vaccines. The study will focus on two distinct schedules of nasal vaccine and boosters, hoping to give experts an idea of which approach is best at priming the immune system against H7N9.

“In a pandemic, time is of the essence,” said study investigator John Treanor, MD, an internationally known flu expert who heads the University’s Vaccine Research Unit. “While no cases of H7N9 have yet been identified in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control is following the situation closely and taking precautionary action, developing and testing a candidate vaccine in case it was ever needed.” For the study, Treanor and colleagues will assign study members to one of two groups:

Group one will receive intranasal vaccine, consisting of a live, weakened version of the H7N9 virus. Participants in this group will spend 12 days in an isolation facility and then several weeks later be given a booster shot of inactivated H7N9 in an outpatient setting.

Group two would follow a similar schedule, but instead would receive an additional dose of intranasal vaccine 28 days after the initial dose is given. Members of this group will also be required to spend an additional 12 days in isolation after the follow-up dose, and then, several weeks later, a H7N9 booster would be administered in the outpatient setting.

The researchers will monitor closely how strongly each of the two vaccine schedules triggers production of protective proteins – antibodies – in the participants. The team hopes that the findings will offer a new approach in battling H7N9 infections. The information from this study could help the CDC better prepare for a pandemic of avian influenza A. Treanor and his colleagues are currently looking for volunteers for the new study. They are asking for healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who may be interested to sign up. Participants should be non-pregnant, non-asthmatic, and have no allergies to eggs. They noted that any patients who have participated in previous avian flu vaccine trials are not eligible and participants must agree to not travel to the Southern Hemisphere in the two weeks prior to initial vaccination. Participants who complete all study components will be paid between $2,475 and $3,990, depending on how many live vaccine doses/isolation stays are completed.


As for the H7N9, the WHO does not currently advise special screening at points of entry, nor does it currently recommend any travel or trade restrictions in China. In its latest global flu update, which was released yesterday, the WHO reported that flu activity is currently low in most regions of tropical Asia, except for Hong Kong, which has recently seen an influx in H3N2 cases. The UN-operated health agency has also noted that flu activity remained at inter-seasonal levels in southern China, though the number of flu virus detections was higher this year compared to last year.

Source: Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online


Taiwan vows to develop first vaccine against fatal H7N9 avian flu

By Agence France-Presse, Monday, October 14, 2013. Taiwan is scheduled to roll out its first vaccine against the H7N9 strain of avian flu in late 2014, after the island confirmed the first outbreak of the deadly virus earlier this year, researchers said Monday.

Health authorities in Taiwan confirmed in April that a 53-year-old Taiwanese man, who had been working in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, showed symptoms three days after returning home via Shanghai. The man, who was infected in China, was in serious but stable condition when he was hospitalised. Although the patient was eventually discharged, the outbreak prompted Taiwanese authorities to gear up research on a vaccine against the strain of avian influenza, given the ever closer exchanges across the Taiwan Strait.

“We plan to start Phase II clinical trial in March,” which will contain 300 clinical cases, Su Ih-jen, director of the National Institute of Diseases and Vaccinology at the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI), told AFP. After that, the project is scheduled to move into Phase III clinical trial in June, with 1,000 people being tested, he said. The NHRI is able to produce 200,000 doses of the cell-based vaccine once the project clears the Phase III trial stage, he said.

Su termed as “one of the most deadly diseases” threatening human beings. “As of now H7N9 is the virus most likely to cause comprehensive transmission throughout the world as studies show that it can be spread through upper respiratory tract,” Su said. He was comparing it to the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which affects airways and lungs, or the lower respiratory tract.

Since 2003, the H5N1 strain has killed more than 250 people in a dozen countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). As of August, WHO has been informed of a total of 135 laboratory-confirmed human cases with avian influenza A(H7N9) virus, including 44 deaths. Most of the cases were recorded in China.

Following its first outbreak, Taiwan had brought forward plans to ban the killing of live poultry in traditional markets by a month, to May 17. Under the ban, market vendors will not be allowed to sell birds they have killed themselves, only poultry supplied from Taiwan’s 79 approved slaughterhouses. There are about 870,000 Taiwanese people living in China. Trade and cross-strait travel have soared in recent years, after decades of tension since the two sides split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.


Another H7N9 case confirmed in China

BEIJING (Oct 15, 2013): Another new H7N9 bird flu case has been confirmed in eastern China’s Zhejiang province when a man tested positive for the virus, local authorities said today. The 35-year-old patient, surnamed Liu, was warded at a township hospital on Oct 8 and hospitalized at the Shaoxing county hospital where he is reportedly in critical condition, Xinhua news agency reported. The patient’s condition has been severe; there has been coma, edema, and pulmonary symptoms of low blood oxygen saturation.

The patient’s condition and February this year he was first discovered in Shanghai Minhang H7N9 cases are very similar.
Liu tested positive for the H7N9 virus at the Zhejiang Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the provincial health department. Mainland China has reported a total of 134 H7N9 bird flu cases by August-end, including 45 deaths, said the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Though officials from the Shanghai Health and Family Planning Commission said yesterday there were no new H7N9 cases reported in the city, local medical experts said autumn and winter are the season for respiratory diseases like flu and there was a possibility that H7N9 cases may make a comeback.

“Both the authorities and public should stay on high alert and I suggest a complete ban on live poultry business to help control the spread of H7N9,” said Dr Lu Hongzhou, a member of the nation’s H7N9 prevention and control expert group and vice president of Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center.

Liu, who works in Shaoxing County, was admitted to a hospital on October 8. He is in critical condition and is receiving treatment. None of his family members have showed flu-like symptoms According to Lu, who went to the hospital in Shaoxing soon after receiving a call on Sunday night, said he told the hospital to adopt effective anti-viral therapy immediately.
Experts believe that clinical practice in line with H7N9 treatment must be adopted including transporting the patient to a ward with negative pressure and isolation. He should be disinfected and his family members should take necessary self-protection measures.

Lu said the patient was overweight. His job includes painting and goes out for sketching outdoors frequently. “It means he may have contacted it from the birds,” Lu said. Lu said H7N9 is a novel virus and there were still many unknown aspects of the virus like its mutation. In particular, there has been no effective vaccine against the virus. The number of H7N9 bird flu cases in China reached 134 by the end of last month since the first human infection was confirmed in late March.

The live poultry trade was suspended in Shanghai in April but was back in business in late June.


FAO launches emergency projects to fight H7N9 avian flu

Initiatives to help Asian countries improve virus detection, control and response

Bangkok, Thailand, 18 Sep 2013 — Two emergency regional projects* aimed at containing avian influenza were launched today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific at a three-day workshop. The meeting was attended by veterinary experts from countries in the sub-regions of Southeast and South Asia and from a number of international organizations and development partners.

Working in coordination with development partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), these FAO projects will promote coordinated sub-regional preparedness, surveillance and response to A(H7N9) in poultry and other animal populations in Asian countries at risk. The projects will assist countries in the region to better detect, control and respond to the virus.

The emergence of A(H7N9) influenza in China raises the possibility that the virus could spread to a number of countries in the region which are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). FAO said these initiatives will boost epidemiologic knowledge, surveillance and diagnostic capacity and risk management, including preparedness and response, risk communication, as well as coordination and collaboration among ASEAN and SAARC countries and between animal and human health authorities.

Countries in Asia must remain vigilant in light of possible re-emergence of A(H7N9)

Speaking at the workshop project launch, Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, warned the region that the “virus in China is still present and there is still a great deal not yet understood about this H7N9 virus. Other influenza viruses that circulate in poultry often decrease dramatically during the summer months, only to reappear later in the year during cold season. Also, many low pathogenic influenza viruses in poultry have transformed into highly pathogenic viruses.”

Konuma called on countries in the region to ensure that they are prepared should the H7N9 virus follow a similar path. “This means that all countries in Asia need to be vigilant– both for incursion and spread of the virus, and possible evolution to highly pathogenic type.”

Preparation needed in case there is a resurgence of the A(H7N9) virus

Konuma urged veterinary experts at the workshop to “discuss how to adjust surveillance and response mechanisms and to prepare for a possible resurgence of H7N9 suggesting that participants identify synergies of the human health, animal health and other sectors among the countries in the region and between the countries and the relevant international organizations.”

He added that the “sharing of information and the coordination that takes place at this meeting, and through the period of these projects, will lead to further improvements in infectious disease detection and response so that, as a global community, we will be better prepared for immediate action and early containment the next time a new disease emerges.”

*Emergency Assistance for Surveillance of Influenza A(H7N9) Virus in Poultry and Animal Populations in Southeast Asia – TCP/RAS/3406(E) and Emergency Assistance for Surveillance of Influenza A(H7N9) Virus in Poultry and Animal Populations in South Asia – TCP/RAS/3407(E)


Guangdong reports new case of H7N9 bird flu

Shanghai Daily, August 10, 2013, Saturday. A NEW suspected case of human infection with the H7N9 strain of avian influenza was reported yesterday in south China’s Guangdong Province. The Guangdong Provincial Department of Health announced that the sample from a female patient in Huizhou City had tested positive for the virus in initial tests on Tuesday. The 51-year-old woman, surnamed Chen, is in critical condition, the department said. She is now being treated in Huizhou City Central People’s Hospital. Chen had been a poultry slaughtering worker in a local market for many years, the department added. Thirty-six people who had close contact with her have been put under medical observation. They have shown no abnormal symptoms so far, the department said.Chen tested positive for H7N9 in the Huizhou City Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. The result was later confirmed when it was checked by the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The provincial department has dispatched a team of five medical experts to the hospital to help with Chen’s treatment.

The Guangdong Provincial Agricultural Department has allocated five tons of disinfectant to prevent the virus from spreading further. China ended the emergency response to the H7N9 avian flu outbreak in late May. Health authorities said on Thursday that the country maintains its assessment on the public health risks of H7N9 avian flu, despite a research paper indicating possible human-to-human transmission. Deng Haihua, spokesman with the National Health and Family Planning Commission, confirmed that health authorities were aware of the cases mentioned by the research paper, which was published by the British Medical Journal on Tuesday. “The report on the British Medical Journal does not change China’s judgement of public health risks imposed by the disease,” said Deng. A father and his daughter died of H7N9 in east China’s Jiangsu Province in April. Researchers in Jiangsu studied the two cases and concluded that the virus may have spread from father to daughter.