01/30/2007, 00.00

Successful vaccine tests against bird flu in Taiwan

Taiwanese scientists have tested the vaccine only animals so far. Two years are needed before human trials can lead to mass production. Meanwhile concerns remain high in mainland China. Cats and pigs are found infected in Indonesia. Hungary is also at risk of bird flu danger infection.

Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Taiwan has conducted promising animal tests on anti-bird flu vaccine, officials announced. In the mainland the alert remains high and in Indonesia the virus has been found in mammals.

Pele Chong, head of the vaccine development programme at Taiwan's National Health Research Institute, said that tests on animals were successful. He explained that human trials are planned and that a production line would be built by the end of the year. Formal production was expected to start late next year to be ready for mass production in two years. If all goes well Taiwan hopes to eventually produce up to 80,000 doses of the vaccine a month.

But if a pandemic bird flu strain emerges, experts have predicted it could take six months before inoculations such as the one Taiwan is developing could be adjusted to provide full protection.

Taiwan has not reported any human cases from H5N1, but several fowl smuggled from China tested positive in 2005.

In China opinions tend to be pessimistic with real concerns that a pandemic is a real possibility, especially after recent outbreaks were reported in South Korea and Japan. In the latter a fourth case of infection was found in a farm in Miyazaki.

With the weather getting colder, flu cases are up in China. Zhong Nanshan, head of the Guangdong research institute for respiratory diseases, said flu and pneumonia patients will be under observation to identify possible bird flu cases.

“We are worried for animals like pigs and cats (in the Netherlands and Indonesia infected cats have been found), and the risk is still real, but no one can predict when it [a human outbreak] will occur.”

Zhong said that a patient suffering from bird flu was treated in Donghu (Shenzhen) because of an early diagnosis.

Anyone with high fever or pneumonia will be subject to an immediate bird flu test if antibiotics do not work within two days.

Hong Kong authorities have been asked to do the same after infected dead birds were found in the last few weeks.

Indonesia. Concerns are growing after the bird flu was found in cats and dogs that might have eaten infected poultry.

Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, a virologist at Udayana University, found the virus in two dogs and a cat in Bali during animal surveys conducted between September and December.

Even if there are few cases this “could be a sign that the virus is mutating to adapt to mammalian hosts.  If they are adapting to mammals, they could be on the way to adapting to humans, to become a human virus,” said Lo Winglok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong.

Musni Suatmodjo, Indonesia's animal health director, said there had been reports about the virus in pigs in Yogyakarta and in cats in Bandung and Bali as well as Java.

Hungary. Hungarian authorities culled 9400 goslings in the south-eastern part of the country because of suspicions of bird flu. (PB)

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See also
Bird flu feared more virulent in Eastern Europe than in Asia
Avian flu: China might not be reporting every outbreak
Bird flu: Ankara tries to allay western fears
In China no information about the dangers of the avian flu
Pandemic would be a disaster for Asia's economy