Panic drives avian flu response– dogs blamed, but never had disease

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2005:

BUCHAREST, ISTANBUL– Fears that the H5N1 avian flu virus
had spread to Romania “may be wrong,” the London Daily Mail reported
on October 10.
A suspected outbreak in Turkey was likewise unconfirmed.
Amid rising public panic, the veterinary authorities of both
Turkey and Romania nonetheless ordered the immediate slaughter of
tens of thousands of domestic fowl to keep the presumed outbreak from
“In western Turkey, military police set up roadblocks at the
entrance to a village near Balikesir,” reported C. Onur Ant of
Associated Press. “A two-mile radius was quarantined as
veterinarians and other officials began destroying poultry at two
turkey farms. Other fowl–including pigeons–and stray dogs in the
village would also be killed as a precaution, said Nihat Pakdil,
undersecretary of Turkey’s Agriculture Ministry.”
Pakdil did not explain why dogs would be targeted, since
there is no record of dogs ever contracting or carrying H5N1, but a
new national humane law making neuter/return rather than killing dogs
the official prescribed method of animal control has been widely
defied on the pretext of disease control. The most recent of many
dog massacres reported since the new law took effect in mid-2005 was
discovered in Aliaga, Izmir, on October 6, where 24 dead dogs were
found in a wooded public park.

If the Romanian and Turkish massacres were just a panic
response, the Romanian and Turkish officials were hardly alone in
having it. U.S. President George Bush on October 4 asked Congress to
give him the authority to use the military in a domestic policing
role in the event of an H5N1 epidemic. The Bush request was
immediately denounced as excessive, unnecessary, and
unconstitutional by prominent commentators across the political
H5N1 was suspected of striking in Romania, entering Europe
for the first time, after three barnyard ducks appeared to have died
of some form of avian flu on a farm in Ceamurlia-de-Jos, Tulcea
County, in the eastern Danube River delta.
Tissue samples were promptly sent to the British Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for more sophisticated
testing than was possible within Romania. The preliminary
indications were negative.
British chief veterinarian Debby Reynolds told the Daily Mail that a
European Union team would fly to Romania to try to confirm the
Romanian agriculture minister Gheorghe Flutur imposed a
three-kilometer quarantine on the area surrounding the farm where the
suspected outbreak occurred, and suspended waterfowl hunting
throughout the Danube delta region.
If the disease that killed the three ducks was H4N1, and if
it arrived with migrating wild ducks, the whole of Romania might
potentially have been at risk. Flooding underway since April 2005
has expanded waterfowl habitat in all parts of the country, which
each fall attracts migrating red-breasted geese from Siberia plus
white-fronted geese from Scandin-avia, Poland, and Germany.
The Turkish disease outbreak was confirmed as an H5 virus,
but not necessarily H5N1, or even a closely related variety.
The closest confirmed H5N1 outbreak to Europe so far occurred
in July 2005 in the Chelyabinsk region of the Ural mountains in
“From the map,” commented International Society for
Infectious Diseases ProMed forum moderator Jack Woodall, “it seems
clear to me that at least up until now the virus has not been spread
by migrating birds, since the direction of spread has been
east-west, cutting across several north/south flyways and following
the frontier between Russia and Kazakhstan westwards from the
Mongolian border. Could there be a flourishing trade in poultry
along the border?”
Agreed fellow ProMed moderator Craig R. Pringle, “Our
species has lived more or less in harmony with waterfowl for
millennia. The changed dynamic is the vast increase in recent years
of the production and global trading of poultry as a source of food.
It is more likely that a novel pandemic virus would spread along
trade and communications routes rather than via the migratory
pathways of free-living birds. Outbreaks of disease have occurred
along migratory routes,” Pringle conceded, “but the majority of
migrating birds have proven to be free of H5N1, and the minority of
birds exhibiting disease may be victims rather than carriers.”
Sarawak deputy chief minister George Chan Hong Nam told
Stephen Then of the Malaysia Star on October 3 that the major
possible avenue for an outbreak he sees is the clandestine traffic in
gamecocks– already repeatedly identified as the major vector for
spreading H5N1 in Thailand, and implicated almost everywhere else
that outbreaks have occurred. Chan also cited the illicit trade in
exotic pet birds.
“These birds, if infected by the bird flu virus, would be
very potent carriers and would spread the virus very swiftly,” Chan
said. “We need to control the free flow of these fighting cocks and
other birds from Indonesia,” Chan emphasized, saying he had
“directed for more stringent controls at the border entry points
along the Sarawak/Kaliman-tan border.”
H5N1 has so far killed 65 humans in Southeast Asia since
1997, 43 of them in Vietnam since 2003. Almost all human victims
have been cockfighters, poultry workers, or members of their
immediate family. Only a handful of cases are believed to have been
transmitted from person to person.
Epidemiologists most fear the possibility that H5N1 might
mutate into a form that passes readily from person to person, and/or
to other mammals, potentially touching off a global pandemic.
In June 2005 H5N1 was found in captive-raised civets at Cuc
Phuong National Park in Vietnam. H5N1 has also killed a few domestic
cats and zoo tigers in Thailand. The civets and the cats, both
small and large, were apparently fed the carcasses of infected
Dogs so far appear to be practically invulnerable to H5N1.
Carrion-feeding street dogs are abundant in Thailand and several
other nations where H5N1 has occurred, but as yet no cases in dogs
have even been epidemiologically suspected, let alone confirmed.
In addition, thousands of dogs are raised outdoors for meat
in the same parts of southern China and northern Vietnam where the
most H5N1 cases have occurred, and are commonly fed poultry offal,
with no suspected crossover cases resulting.
But health officials and politicians worldwide are on edge.
Only days before the Romanian and Turkish outbreaks,
Indonesia prepared for a possible H5N1 epidemic, after six human
deaths in as many weeks, with more than 50 suspected cases under
observation and treatment. Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari
requested 900,000 capsules of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu from
Australia and the World Health Organization.
The Indonesian episode was initially believed to be much
bigger, but many suspected cases turned out to be misdiagnosed.
Many others may have occurred, Agence France-Presse reported
on October 10, because of vaccines that were only 12% to 28%
effective, according to spot testing. “Government auditors suspect
local companies assigned to make the vaccine produced doses of
inferior quality to inflate profits, with the collusion of some
ministry officials,” AFP summarized.
A simultaneous suspected H5N1 outbreak that killed 50
chickens on a farm near Calumpit, Bulacan, in the Philippines, was
actually caused by a bad batch of homebrewed antibiotics mixed into
poultry feed, investigators said.
Reports from Hong Kong that Tamiflu might be losing potency
against H5N1 were attributed by Hong Kong University pharmacology
professor William Chui to a journalistic misunderstanding.
Efforts to prevent a global influenza epidemic, whether of
H5N1 or another deadly strain, are still critically underfunded,
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned on
September 24.
The FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health have
been trying since May 2005 to raise more than $250 million over the
next three years for flu-fighting efforts. Donor nations led by the
U.S. and Japan have so far pledged $16.5 million, and the U.S. has
also allocated $25 million to other flu-fighting projects in Asia,
Agence France-Presse reported.

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