News to Watch: Avian Flu Jumps to Pigs in Far East

Two reports from the Far East last week, one from China:

Avian Flu Discovered in Pigs

Scientists in China say they have discovered a highly virulent strain of bird flu virus in pigs.

An official at the China National Avian Flu Reference Laboratory said the H5N1 virus strain had been found in pigs at several farms in the country.

More than 20 people died and almost 200 million birds were culled during a flu epidemic in Asia earlier this year.

And one from Malaysia:

Bird Flu Believed Endemic in Asia, Spreads to Pigs

Aug 20, 9:03 AM (ET)

by Nick Macfie and Jalil Hamid

BEIJING/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The discovery of a deadly bird flu strain in Malaysia after cases elsewhere in Southeast Asia signaled a major winter outbreak was likely, international health experts said Friday.

Since a strain deadly to humans emerged in Asia several months ago, scientists have voiced fears the flu could mutate, become able to jump to humans, and spread.

Adding to concern was an announcement by a Chinese scientist Friday that pigs in China had been found infected with bird flu, but the World Health Organization said that did not come as a complete surprise.

A strain of bird flu blamed for 27 deaths in Asia this year has been found in Malaysia this week and hundreds of birds have been gassed this week and their carcasses burned to contain the outbreak.

The latest deaths from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza were of three people in Vietnam earlier this month.

In February, Science published an article on the link between avian flu and the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide.

The good news is that the hemagglutinins of the Spanish Flu virus and the H5 virus are different, meaning that the viruses bind to human cells in different ways.

At least for now.

Final note: Within the last three days, some government health officials in the U.S. have quietly advised health care professionals to watch for patients displaying symptoms of avian influenza A (H5N1).

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