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Uganda: Bird Flu Spreads Among Humans - WHO

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  • Uganda: Bird Flu Spreads Among Humans - WHO

    Uganda: Bird Flu Spreads Among Humans - WHO
    21 October 2007
    Posted to the web 22 October 2007

    Hilary Bainemigisha

    THE H5N1 strain of bird flu has finally managed to spread from person to person, according to officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    Until now, it was spread from birds to humans. They warned that if the bird flu virus mutated to easily spread between humans, it could spark a global pandemic, killing millions.

    According to a new study of deaths in Indonesia last year, bird flu could have spread between humans on several occasions. Person to person infection was suspected but could not be confirmed.

    In the village of Sumatran, seven family members contracted the H5N1 strain of bird flu, one of the biggest clusters in the world. They died before being tested.

    In Thailand, when a mother was hospitalised with avian influenza, her daughter, who lived away from bird-rearing contracted the virus when she came to visit her in hospital.

    The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, US also examined a second family cluster outbreak in Turkey last year, but did not have the evidence to confirm or refute human-to-human transmission.

    The researchers have for the first time proved that the virus has spread between a "cluster" of people.

    Indonesia, with 84 bird flu deaths, the highest toll in the world, has tried to downplay fears of the spread.

    The head of research at the Indonesian health ministry, Triono Soendono, said the findings were "just one" piece of research.

    But the WHO assistant director for communicable diseases, David Heymann, said it was likely the Sumatran virus was spread by human-to-human contact.

    "We believe there has likely been transmission through intimate or close contact," he said.

    Dr. Sam Okware, the commissioner, community health, who is also the chairman of the National Task Force on the disease, said it was sad news.

    "But we are also improving capacity and training for surveillance to handle it every day. The laboratory at the Virus Research Institute is ready," he affirmed.

    Dr. Chris Rutebarika, the assistant commissioner for disease control in the Ministry of Agriculture, urged Ugandans not get so worried about the developments.

    "Considering the magnitude of researched data, the human-to-human spread is still academic and not worrying." Rutebarika said the taskforce was getting ready and had just concluded four simulation studies in Jinja, Mbale, Arua and Kasese districts.

    He added that the public was being sensitised and a compensation policy had been drafted. "We are at a better stage than last year. We just lack money and training."