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After South Korea, Japan, China discovers two more cases of human bird flu

China has discovered two more cases of human bird flu infection. South Korea and Japan are working to contain outbreaks of different strains of the virus. In Xiamen, a city in China's eastern Fujian province, local authorities halted poultry sales from Thursday in the Siming district, after a 44-year-old man was diagnosed with H7N9 flu on Sunday, state news agency Xinhua reported. A man diagnosed with the H7N9 strain of bird flu is being treated in Shanghai, after travelling from the neighboring province of Jiangsu, the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning said on its website. The patient is being treated in hospital and is stable condition, the South China Morning Post reported. The latest incidents come after Hong Kong confirmed an elderly man was diagnosed with the disease earlier this week. Health officials in South Korea and Japan are also working to contain outbreaks of different strains of the virus - which is most likely to strike in winter and spring. Both countries have ordered the killing of tens of millions of birds in the past month, stoking fears of regional spread. China's authorities said they would ban imports of poultry from countries where there are outbreaks of highly pathogenic bird flu. It already prohibits imports from more than 60 nations, including Japan and South Korea. Heavy losses expected The poultry industry is expecting heavy financial losses, in particular as farmers in China are preparing for the year's peak demand during Lunar New Year celebrations at the end of January. Farmers have in recent years taken measures to prevent the disease. The last major bird flu outbreak in mainland China in 2013 killed 36 people and caused about $6.5 billion (6.2 billion euros) in losses to agriculture.

China has discovered two more cases of human bird flu infection. South Korea and Japan are working to contain outbreaks of different strains of the virus. In Xiamen, a city in China’s eastern Fujian province, local authorities halted poultry sales from Thursday in the Siming district, after a 44-year-old man was diagnosed with H7N9 flu on Sunday, state news agency ... Read More »

Bird flu spreads in Germany, sparking fears for holiday meals

Tens of thousands of new cases of bird flu have been reported in Germany, as the disease spreads across Europe. Authorities are concerned about the economic consequences, with poultry in high demand during the holidays. Germany revealed more cases of a dangerous strain of avian influenza on Saturday, alongside reports that the disease had spread to Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Croatia. The H5N8 virus has affected some 30,000 chickens in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Authorities said an area of 3 square kilometers (1.2 square miles) around the affected farm had been sealed off. Berlin has set up a crisis management task force to tackle the issue, after reports also came in from Austria that another large outbreak was suspected in an area along the border with Bavaria. Authorities urge extreme caution At the same time, Switzerland has confirmed that a number of dead birds found along Lake Geneva were confirmed to be carrying the H5N8 virus. Bern and Vienna both immediately took steps to contain the disease from spreading further, authorities said. This particular strain of avian influenza arrived in Europe from South Korea in 2014, brought by migratory waterfowl. Massive culling followed after wild ducks, geese and swans passed the disease to farmed birds like chickens and turkeys. Authorities have urged extreme caution and care on the part of farmers and food inspectors. The upcoming holiday season will increase the demand for duck, goose and chicken, and the flu outbreak could have serious economic consequences. Avian influenza spreads easily among domestic poultry, but only certain subtypes - H5N1 and H7N9 - are known to infect humans.

Tens of thousands of new cases of bird flu have been reported in Germany, as the disease spreads across Europe. Authorities are concerned about the economic consequences, with poultry in high demand during the holidays. Germany revealed more cases of a dangerous strain of avian influenza on Saturday, alongside reports that the disease had spread to Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, ... Read More »

Singapore confirms local Zika outbreak

Singapore has reported a spike in cases of locally transmitted Zika virus. The infection only causes mild symptoms in humans but is dangerous for pregnant women as it's been linked to serious birth defects. Singapore has confirmed 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus, the city-state's health ministry said Sunday. All of the cases related to residents or workers within the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area, a suburban residential and industrial district, authorities said. Some 36 of the cases were from foreign laborers who worked in the area. "They are not known to have traveled to Zika-affected areas recently, and are thus likely to have been infected in Singapore," the statement added. "This confirms that local transmission of Zika virus infection has taken place." Dozens of National Environment Agency (NEA) technicians cleaned drains and sprayed insecticide in the mainly residential area early on Sunday, and volunteers and contractors handed out leaflets and insect repellent. Residents said they were reassured by the visible anti-mosquito effort. "I'm very scared of mosquitoes because they always seem to bite me, they never bite my husband," Janice, 31, who gave only her first name, told the Reuters news agency. "This concerns me because maybe in a couple of years I want to have another (child)." Singapore reported the first imported case of the Zika virus infection in May after a 48-year-old man contracted the virus after a visit to Brazil earlier in the year. On Saturday, health officials say they confirmed the first case of local transmission and expect the mosquito-borne virus to spread. "(The Ministry of Health) cannot rule out further community transmission in Singapore since some of those tested positive also live or work in other parts of Singapore," the statement said. "We expect to identify more positive cases." Authorities say they have tested 124 people, primarily construction workers, with 78 testing negative and five cases pending, the report read. In all, 34 patients have fully recovered. The current strain of the Zika virus that is sweeping through Latin America and the Caribbean originated in Asia, where epidemiologists speculate people could have built up greater immunity.

Singapore has reported a spike in cases of locally transmitted Zika virus. The infection only causes mild symptoms in humans but is dangerous for pregnant women as it’s been linked to serious birth defects. Singapore has confirmed 41 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus, the city-state’s health ministry said Sunday. All of the cases related to residents or workers within ... Read More »

Zika exacerbated by ‘massive policy failure,’ says WHO chief

The head of the UN's public health body has blamed inadequate mosquito control policy for the proliferation of the virus. Europe is at risk of a Zika outbreak, according to the WHO's latest assessment. WHO Secretary-General Margaret Chan on Monday blamed "massive policy failure" for the spread of the mosquito-borne virus Zika across many parts of North and South America. "The spread of Zika, the resurgence of dengue and the emerging threat from chikungunya are the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s," Chan said during her speech to the 69th World Health Assembly. The WHO chief noted that the "failure to provide universal access to sexual and family planning services" revealed an "extreme consequence" of the Zika virus outbreak. "The rapidly evolving outbreak of Zika warns us that an old disease that slumbered for six decades in Africa and Asia can suddenly wake up on a new continent to cause a global health emergency," Chan added. In April, US officials announced that that there was a likely link between Zika and a rise in newborns with microcephaly, a rare condition resulting in a smaller head than normal. The WHO has investigated the link between the virus and the medical condition. More than 1.5 million people have been infected with Zika in Brazil, with over 1,000 cases of microcephaly registered since last year, according to AFP news agency. The mosquito-borne virus has also been reported in several countries in the Americas and the Caribbean, including Colombia, Haiti and Mexico. Europe alert Earlier this month, the WHO officials warned "there is a risk of spread of Zika virus disease in the European region." The UN's public health body said an outbreak was more likely in countries where Aedes mosquitoes are present. "With this risk assessment, we at WHO want to inform and target preparedness work in each European country based on its level of risk," said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's regional director for Europe. "We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak," added Jakab.

The head of the UN’s public health body has blamed inadequate mosquito control policy for the proliferation of the virus. Europe is at risk of a Zika outbreak, according to the WHO’s latest assessment. WHO Secretary-General Margaret Chan on Monday blamed “massive policy failure” for the spread of the mosquito-borne virus Zika across many parts of North and South America. ... Read More »

UN health body calls for closing the immunization gap

The WHO's 2016 World Immunization Week promotes vaccines as the most successful, safe and cost-effective way to stop deaths from preventable diseases. Millions of people worldwide lack the most routine immunizations. The world is filled with nasty, but preventable, illnesses, some of which can cause disability or even death: human papillomavirus (which can lead to cervical cancer), diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, polio, rotavirus, rubella and tetanus. During World Immunization Week, held from April 24 to 30, the UN's health body wants to remind adults and children that a simple shot can prevent these diseases and many more. To do so, the World Health Organization (WHO) has scheduled a series of regional events and vaccination campaigns to showcase successes and highlight areas where global efforts need to focus. A priority for WHO is the estimated 18.7 million infants worldwide who have not been immunized against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus - vaccines that are routine in many nations. Sixty percent of those children are in just 10 countries. In Africa's "meningitis belt," running from Senegal to Ethiopia, a vaccine introduced five years ago has already been given to 230 million people. In what WHO describes as a "game changer," potential new vaccines against dengue fever, Ebola and malaria could define the future of immunization programs and health care. Missing goals Despite gains across several fronts, the world is lagging on achieving the goals set forth in a 2012 Global Vaccine Action Plan. Only one of the six targets - introducing new or underutilized vaccines to at least 90 low- or middle-income countries - was on track to meet the goal of 2020. Coverage for a triple vaccine for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis rose to 83 percent globally, but 65 countries are still below the 90 percent target. The goal of eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus by 2015 was missed, as was wiping out measles from four regions and eliminating rubella from two regions. Half of the children around the globe have not received a rubella vaccine. In 2015, Africa moved closer to eliminating the disease after Nigeria was certified polio-free. The disease now remains endemic to only Afghanistan and Pakistan, two of the most dangerous places in the world for health workers. In a major step, a new polio vaccine regimen was introduced this month around the globe as part of a final push to finish off the disease.

The WHO’s 2016 World Immunization Week promotes vaccines as the most successful, safe and cost-effective way to stop deaths from preventable diseases. Millions of people worldwide lack the most routine immunizations. The world is filled with nasty, but preventable, illnesses, some of which can cause disability or even death: human papillomavirus (which can lead to cervical cancer), diphtheria, hepatitis B, ... Read More »

WHO launches worldwide effort to completely eliminate polio

Officials hope a coordinated effort to launch a new vaccine worldwide will finally eliminate the polio virus. But going from a handful of cases to absolute zero is more difficult than it sounds, and will cost billions. More than 150 countries and territories launched a new effort on Sunday that health experts hope will lead to the complete eradication of the polio virus within the next year or two. Polio cases are currently just a fraction of the 1 percent of cases known in 1988, when 350,000 cases were recorded in 125 countries around the world. But eliminating the last strands of the virus could prove tricky, in part because it involves a well-synchronized switching of vaccines across the globe - and that starts today, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The switch needs to be coordinated to prevent outbreaks in places where the old vaccine is no longer being used. The changeover is due to be completed by May 1. Thousands of monitors will be deployed around the world to confirm that the problem vaccine is no longer in use, according to the WHO. The old (trivalent) vaccine is geared to inoculate people from three strands of the virus. But the second strand has already been successfully eliminated in nature and now only exists through the vaccine. This is now the cause of most vaccine-caused infections, as it can gestate in the gut and be passed on to others via fecal-contaminated water. Wild polio The wild version of the virus now exists only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The new (bivalent) vaccine is designed to inoculate recipients from only two strands (one and three) of the virus. There have only been 12 cases worldwide this year, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so the prospect of spending $5.5 billion (4.9 billion euros - the cost estimated by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative) to eliminate polio may seem exorbitant. But Michel Zaffran, the WHO's director of polio eradication, said even more money will need to be spent to keep the disease from coming back. "Taking our foot off the pedal now could mean polio will within a few years spread straight back into large parts of the world and create 100,000 or 200,000 cases," Zaffran said. "The job has not been done and will not be done until we have fully eradicated the virus." This is not the first time health officials have come close to eliminating the virus only to suffer setbacks. The GPEI was set up in 1988 with the aim of eliminating the virus by the year 2000. That effort failed but experts say the effort is worth the cost of eliminating the virus once and for all.

Officials hope a coordinated effort to launch a new vaccine worldwide will finally eliminate the polio virus. But going from a handful of cases to absolute zero is more difficult than it sounds, and will cost billions. More than 150 countries and territories launched a new effort on Sunday that health experts hope will lead to the complete eradication of ... Read More »

US investigates reports of 14 sexually transmitted Zika cases as Brazil tackles virus

US health officials are investigating 14 cases of Zika infections which may have been spread through sex. The WHO, meanwhile, has lauded Brazil's efforts in stopping the spread of the virus ahead of the Summer Olympics. The CDC stressed that there was no evidence that women can spread the virus to their sex partners, but said more research was needed. There have, however, been two reported cases where Zika was sexually transmitted, including a recent one in the US state of Texas, and at least two other reports where the Zika virus was found in semen. The current advice from the CDC to men who have recently been to an area affected by the Zika virus is to use a condom when having sex with a pregnant woman or to abstain. The CDC has also recommended that pregnant women postpone trips to more than 30 destinations currently tackling the virus. 'Very good plan' to tackle Zika Following a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan said the Brazilian government is doing all it can to fight the spread of the mosquito-borne virus. "I want to reassure you that the government is working very closely with the international Olympic movement, with the local organizing committee, supported by the WHO, to make sure we have a very good work plan to target the mosquito, and to make sure that people who will come here either as visitors or athletes will get the maximum protection they need," Chan said. "I am confident the government can do it," Chan told reporters. Many scientists believe that a recent spike in microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, could be linked to the Zika virus. Brazil's Health Ministry said Tuesday that the number of confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly had risen to 4,690 from 4,443 a week earlier. Of these, the number of confirmed cases had climbed to 583 from 508. The Zika virus is largely spread by the same kind of mosquito that transmits other tropical diseases, including dengue and chikungunya. Although there is no definitive proof that the virus is causing the birth defects, WHO has declared Zika a global emergency. Some 1.5 million people have been infected with the Zika virus in Brazil since early 2015, but only three have died. There is currently no cure or vaccine for Zika, and the WHO has estimated that development of a immunization might take 18 months.

US health officials are investigating 14 cases of Zika infections which may have been spread through sex. The WHO, meanwhile, has lauded Brazil’s efforts in stopping the spread of the virus ahead of the Summer Olympics. The CDC stressed that there was no evidence that women can spread the virus to their sex partners, but said more research was needed. ... Read More »

Top scientists pledge to share Zika data to hasten global response

The world's top scientists have pledged to share quickly and freely all data, research and expertise into the Zika virus in a bid to combat the disease. Even as cases increase, much remains unknown about the virus. Top research institutions, funders and publishers said in a statement on Wednesday they would come together to share data in response to the public health emergency posed by the rapid spread of the Zika virus. "The arguments for sharing data and the consequences of not doing so [have been] ... thrown into stark relief by the Ebola and Zika outbreaks," the signatories wrote. "In the context of a public health emergency of international concern, there is an imperative on all parties to make any information available that might have value in combating the crisis." The pledge was signed by among others the journals "Nature," "Science" and "The Lancet," the Chinese Academy of Sciences, France's Institut Pasteur, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development. Much remains unknown about the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has caused international alarm, especially in Latin America and its epicenter in Brazil. Scientists are investigating links between the virus and newborn babies with microcephaly, or unusually small heads that can lead to death or developmental problems. A link between the virus and microcephaly has not been definitively confirmed but is suspected. There is no vaccine for the disease, which in most cases only causes mild flu-like symptoms. The publication of scientific and medical research findings in peer-reviewed journals is traditionally a long and slow process, hampering the rapid international response needed during a global health emergency. A study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" on Wednesday strengthened the case of a link between the virus and the birth defect after the Zika was found in the brain of an aborted fetus of a European woman who had become pregnant while living in Brazil. Zika and abortion Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Wednesday issued guidance to women on how to protect themselves from the virus, even as it said most women in areas where the virus in prevalent would have "normal infants." The UN agency, which declared a health emergency on February 1, advised women, especially those who are pregnant, to take precautions against mosquitoes and to use condoms during intercourse. The spread of the virus has also been linked to sexual contact. The spread of the virus through sexual contact and the link with microcephaly have raised the issue of abortion, especially in Latin America where the practice is widely restricted and the Roman Catholic Church holds considerable sway. According to Church doctrine, life begins at conception and condom use is prohibited. WHO on Wednesday said, "women who wish to terminate a pregnancy due to a fear of microcephaly should have access to safe abortion services to the full extent of the law." The UN health body said early ultrasounds cannot detect microcephaly, "except in extreme cases." This is significant because even in countries where abortion is legal, there are often restrictions beyond a certain time in the pregnancy.

The world’s top scientists have pledged to share quickly and freely all data, research and expertise into the Zika virus in a bid to combat the disease. Even as cases increase, much remains unknown about the virus. Top research institutions, funders and publishers said in a statement on Wednesday they would come together to share data in response to the ... Read More »

UN calls for better birth control access to avoid Zika defects

The UN has urged Zika-stricken countries to give women better access to birth control and abortions to slow the virus' spread. The WHO called for $25 million to fight the virus amid fears 4 million could become infected. Amid growing concern about the Zika virus, which is thought to be linked to babies born with abnormally small heads, the UN Human Rights office called on Latin and South American countries to stop restricting access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion. The Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights said it is worried pregnant women aren't able to access accurate information and medical options after contracting the virus, which is spread through mosquito bites and possibly through sex. "We are asking those governments to go back and change those laws," said UN OHCRH spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly, "because how can they ask those women to become pregnant but not offer them information that is available and the possibility to stop their pregnancies if they wish?" Pouilly said in a region where sexual violence is rampant, women must have the option of safe and legal abortion services. In most of South America, abortion is either illegal or restricted to cases of rape, where the mother's life is threatened or when there are other severe health issues. Outbreak spreading Earlier this week, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus to be global emergency after it spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas. WHO officials said on Friday they would seek $25 million for a six-month program to fight the virus amid fears of up to 4 million cases. Although Zika normally causes no or only mild symptoms, the link to birth defects has strengthened the case for coordinated international action. On Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the suspected link between Zika and a birth defect known as microcephaly appears "stronger and stronger." As well as abnormally small heads, babies with microcephaly are born with an underdeveloped brain. Condoms advised Separately, US health officials warned men who traveled to areas most affected by the virus to use condoms if they have sex with a pregnant woman. The guidance suggested abstinence as an alternative protection measure. Paulo Gadelha, president of the Fiocruz Research Institute, said at a news conference that scientists have found live samples of the virus in saliva and urine samples, but called for further study and said it was not clear which bodily fluids could transmit the virus. He said pregnant women should avoid kissing people other than a regular partner or sharing cutlery, glasses and plates with people who have symptoms of the virus. The advice comes as Brazil's Carnival season got underway on Friday. The celebrations include massive street parties where it is common for people to kiss strangers. Also on Friday, Germany said it had 15 known cases of the Zika virus, a spokesman for the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine told the dpa news agency.

The UN has urged Zika-stricken countries to give women better access to birth control and abortions to slow the virus’ spread. The WHO called for $25 million to fight the virus amid fears 4 million could become infected. Amid growing concern about the Zika virus, which is thought to be linked to babies born with abnormally small heads, the UN ... Read More »

US reports Zika infection through sex

Health officials in Texas have reported a case of the Zika virus being transmitted through sexual contact, and not a mosquito bite. The infected person is said to have acquired it from someone who traveled to Venezuela. Local health officials in Dallas on Tuesday reported a case of the Zika virus being sexually transmitted, heightening fears of the spread of the mosquito-born virus. It comes a day after the World Health Organization declared Zika an international public health emergency. "The patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus was present," a statement from Dallas County Health and Human Services said. It later said on Twitter the country was Venezuela. The county said it had received confirmation of the case from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A CDC spokesman confirmed the results for a Zika infection but said local officials investigated the mode of transmission. Authorities said there were no reports of the virus being locally transmitted by mosquitoes. Sexual transmission not proven Only one possible person-to-person case of sexual transmission has been reported internationally. But health officials have said more evidence is needed to confirm whether Zika can be transmitted through sexual contact. The WHO has said the virusis spreading rapidly in the Americas and could infect 4 million people. A global response unit has been launched to fight the virus. Caution urged for women The virus has been linked to microcephaly, in which babies have abnormally small heads and improperly developed brains. Researchers believe that if a pregnant woman is bitten by an infected mosquito, particularly in the first trimester, she faces a higher risk of having a child with birth defects. The virus has now spread to 26 countries and territories including Brazil, which is the country hardest hit, with 3,700 suspected cases of microcephaly that may be linked to Zika. Brazilian authorities have vowed to proceed with the 2016 Olympics despite the health scare. Ireland reports first cases The first Irish cases of the virus were detected in two people with a history of traveling to an affected country, the country's Health Service Executive said on Tuesday. The two individuals are unrelated and neither is at risk due to pregnancy. They've been described as currently well and fully recovered. Meanwhile, Nicaragua confirmed its first two cases in pregnant women on Tuesday and Chile reported its first case of the virus. The race is on to find a vaccine to prevent the virus taking hold. There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika, which is in the same family of viruses as dengue fever. However, Germany has developed the first test for Zika.

Health officials in Texas have reported a case of the Zika virus being transmitted through sexual contact, and not a mosquito bite. The infected person is said to have acquired it from someone who traveled to Venezuela. Local health officials in Dallas on Tuesday reported a case of the Zika virus being sexually transmitted, heightening fears of the spread of ... Read More »

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