Thursday, March 27, 2008

STMicro launches speedy chip to detect influenza viruses

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - "Europe's top semiconductor maker, STMicroelectronics, said it has developed a portable chip to detect influenza viruses including bird flu in humans. The device, which functions as a mini laboratory on a chip, can screen and identify multiple classes of pathogens and genes in a single diagnostic test within two hours, unlike other tests available on the market that can detect only one strain at a time and require days or weeks to obtain results. The chip can differentiate human strains of the Influenza A and B viruses, drug-resistant strains and mutated variants, including the Avian Flu or H5N1 strain.
There have been 236 human deaths globally from the H5N1 strain, according to the World Health Organisation, though it remains mainly a bird virus.
'ST sees new high growth opportunities in the healthcare market, especially in areas like patient care,' said Francois Guibert, STMicro's Asia Pacific chief executive, at a briefing in Singapore on Monday marking the commercial launch.
The VereFlu Chip was developed by the Franco-Italian chipmaker together with Singapore's privately held Veredus Laboratories after more than a year of research. The application underwent extensive evaluation trials at Singapore's National University Hospital last year. It allows users to process and analyze patient samples -- comprising human blood, serum or respiratory swabs -- on a single disposable thumbnail-sized microchip.
Guibert said revenue contributions from its biomedical chip business would remain 'negligible' for at least another three to five years.
Veredus Chief Executive Rosemary Tan said the company had obtained 'very promising' sales orders from hospitals and non-hospital customers, but declined to provide details.
Another big potential market is the screening of travelers at airports and border checkpoints, Tan said.
Experts are monitoring the H5N1 virus for signs of mutation into a form easily transmitted from person to person, a development that could trigger a deadly pandemic. So far most human cases can be traced to contact with infected birds.
STMicro and Veredus have set up a joint laboratory in Singapore, where their experts will work on developing new biomedical applications using STMicro's chip platform for other infectious diseases, oncology and heart-disease markers."
Retreived from:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Important new study in mapping the risk of avian influenza

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week tells us more about high risk areas for H5N1 outbreaks in Vietnam and Thailand.

Interestingly, they found that duck "abundance", human population and rice cropping intensity were all associated with outbreaks. The numbers of chickens had a relatively low association. The model derived from Thailand was predictive of outbreaks in Vietnam, which is also surprising and good news. The model has some implications for Cambodia and Laos, but is probably not as applicable to Indonesia, where socio-ecological factors are very different.

For the full article:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Check out's perspective on avian flu and other emerging infectious diseases, the philanthropic wing of, has announed their initiatives, one of which is called "Predict and Prevent". Google is interested in indentifying hot spots for emerging infectious disease and improving rapid response.

Check out Google's video on "Predict and Prevent" below:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vietnam begins testing the H5N1 vaccine on humans next month

"HA NOI — Human tests of a Vietnamese-produced H5N1 virus vaccine will begin at the Military Medical Institute next month. Vaccine and Bio-Technology Products Company Number 1 (VABIOTECH) director Nguyen Thu Van confirmed the tests to Viet Nam News yesterday.
The eight-month-long tests would be done with about 270 healthy volunteers aged between 18-45, he said.

The purpose of the tests was to evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine; its safety and dosage.
The vaccine had been developed by VABIOTECH – a subsidiary of the National Hygiene and Epidemiology Institute – from the kidney cells of monkeys using the latest bio-technology available in Viet Nam.

The Health Ministry and the State Science and Technology Council agreed in principle to tests of the made-in-Viet Nam H5N1 vaccine on humans earlier this month. The approval followed the successful testing of the vaccine on animals. VABIOTECH started development of a H5N1 vaccine in mid 2004 when avian flu was spreading throughout Viet Nam.

The Nha Trang Vaccine and Bio-medical Institute reports that it is also completing its research of an influenza type A/H5N1 vaccine for humans. The institute had developed its vaccine on eggs with embryos and produced nine batches, or 10,000 doses, that met the verification standards of the on-the-spot laboratory, said its director, Le Van Hiep. Half the doses had been sent to the National Vaccine and Bio-medical Verification Institute for testing."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What is AI?

From the Communication Initiative...

"What Is AI?" draws on the medium of film as part of a strategy for raising awareness about avian influenza. Specifically, organisers originally prepared the 4 short film modules as public service announcements (PSAs), which may be viewed [in Bahasa Indonesia] online. These modules were then linked together to create a 12-minute video/film called "What is AI?", which features animated graphics in an effort to clearly illustrate how the virus can transmit not only from bird to bird directly, but also how it can live in the environment and be transmitted indirectly as well.

Subsequently, Lao adapted the original to meet that country's specific needs related to avian influenza; research figured into this process, as the film was pretested among a range of stakeholders and the provincial training teams that will be using the film as a training tool. According to organisers, further translations/adaptations may be forthcoming.
Interpersonal communication and print materials are also central to this effort, complementing the film as part of a training programme designed to build the capacity of local leaders to communicate with villages about avian influenza.

Specifically, in all 17 provinces of Lao PDR, "What Is AI?" is part of a training programme that also includes booklets, posters, and other materials that are provided to village leaders and chiefs for use in community meetings about avian influenza. Training of trainers (ToT) sessions involve such participatory tactics as mock trainings conducted with village leaders..

AI-BCC. Also, Ogilvy acted as the production and design team for the original production. In Lao, the training package was developed as a joint project with members of the information, education, and communication (IEC) Task Force in Laos, the government, and United Nations (UN) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), led by UNICEF - and including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), CARE, AED and the World Health Organization (WHO). The film was dubbed and adapted into Lao by Lao Art Media (production firm)."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Vietnam - 1 H5N1 death confirmed in Ha Nam

"A child infected with type A flu (H5N1) from Van Lam village, Thanh Liem district, northern Ha Nam province has died, Nguyen Lam Quyet, director of the provincial Department of Health affirmed on March 17.

The child was said to have eaten sick chicken raised in the garden. He was hospitalised on March 8 and died a week later. After analyzing his blood sample, the National Institute for Hygiene and Epidemiology concluded that the child was infected with H5N1 – a lethal strain of bird flu.
Currently, Ha Nam provincial authorities are carrying out sterilization and quarantining around the commune and have sent five blood samples of birds in Van Lam village for tests."

Tackling bird flu in Laos

"Vientiane, Laos - When the latest avian influenza outbreak hit northern Laos this month, a local veterinarian picked up the phone and called the new national avian influenza hotline. The free hotline, which is being officially launched this week, is a crucial early warning system that helps the government to track and monitor possible cases of bird flu in Laos. Early warning means early action, fewer infected birds, and less impact on the poor farmers who rely on poultry for food and trading. Here in Vientiane capital, many residents are still recovering from last year’s outbreak of the virus. In Dongbang village, all 150 families lost their ducks and chickens when bird flu ripped through Vientiane capital and Vientiane province last year. But before ducks started turning up dead, none of the village residents had ever heard about avian influenza.

This is the kind of situation CARE is working to prevent. With education, people learn how to identify potential cases of avian influenza, how to protect themselves and their poultry from infection, and how to report a potential case of the virus. The hotline is the latest joint initiative between CARE, the government and several other agencies, and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control.“It is critical for people to report any suspected avian influenza case as quickly as possible,” said Monica Spedding, CARE Laos’ Avian Influenza Project Coordinator. “Last year people moved poultry from the red zone to other areas to avoid culling, so the outbreak spread quite quickly.”Avian influenza, or ‘bird flu’, re-emerged in Asia in 2003 as a threat to poultry. But the virus, which has been found in more than 60 countries, gained international attention because the H5N1 strain can make the jump to humans, sparking a fear of a global flu pandemic.

More than 234 people have died of bird flu since 2003, mainly in Indonesia, Vietnam and China. There have been two human cases of bird flu in Laos – both victims died. But the threat to livelihoods is a more immediate concern to the poor farmers living in countries affected by bird flu. In Laos, where a quarter of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, poultry and eggs are a crucial source of extra income to send children to school or buy extra food for the family. And so in Dongbang village last year, when dead ducks started appearing along the river, the free meat was too tempting to ignore.“We saw many of the poorer families take the ducks home to cook,” said Keth Bangkhame-Phao, the village women’s union volunteer. “And then the poultry in that family all died. Within days, all the poultry started to die. We were very scared. We didn’t know anything about avian influenza. We couldn’t do anything.”In rural areas, chickens and ducks run free through the village, scavenging for food. Many families can’t afford the materials to build fences, or the chicken feed they would have to buy if the birds couldn’t roam free to find food for themselves. So like children in a schoolyard, if one bird gets sick, they all get sick. Government authorities confirmed avian influenza in Bangkhame-Phao’s village, and proceeded to kill all chickens, ducks, poultry and pet birds. Across the province, all poultry were killed to stop the spread of the disease.

CARE and government staff came to work with the villagers, teaching them important information about the virus, but also to learn from the villagers – why did the outbreak spread so quickly, and how can that be minimized in the future.“When the two people died last year, it made an impact. But people forget,” said Spedding. “People know what’s going on in other countries, but they think ‘that’s them, this is us’.”But the disease does not respect borders – the current outbreak in northern Laos is on the border with Myanmar and China, which have also suffered outbreaks in the same area. A regional approach is crucial, which is why CARE’s avian influenza programs are coordinated across four countries: Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.

It is a group effort, and CARE works closely with the local governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other agencies to reach as many people as possible. Posters, short plays, education sessions – even karaoke and a “Super Chicken” mascot: CARE teams use everything they can to spread the word. The hotline is one more step in the process, enabling people to quickly report dead poultry, but also ask questions and access information about avian influenza.“When we saw dead poultry before, we just thought it was normal. Now, we know what bird flu is,” said Bangkhame-Phao. “We are not afraid because we follow good protection. If there is a dead duck we will call the authorities right away.”

For more information, please contact Bill Dowell, CARE International, Geneva,

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hong Kong schools close early amid flu fears

"Hong Kong officials gave kindergarten and primary school kids an early break for the Easter holiday in the midst of a widespread flu outbreak. Health Secretary York Chow made the decision late Wednesday to call off classes for two weeks, through March 28.

'All primary schools, special schools and kindergartens and child care centers will be closed in the hope of slowing down the spreading of flu and provide a chance for schools to clean up and make a better environment,' Chow said.

The government has ordered an investigation as three children have died in the last week of the outbreak. One of them was seven-year-old Law Ho-Ming, who was admitted over the weekend with flu-like symptoms. He died on Tuesday. Officials say five of his classmates are sick and hospitalized, while 30 others are displaying similar flu-like symptoms. By imposing the two-week break from school, health authorities are hoping to slow the spread of influenza.

'The decision was made due to a rising trend of flu infections within the community,' Chow said. 'We estimate this peak season of influenza will continue for a few weeks.'

Hong Kong is putting into action a plan devised after a deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) five years ago. The flu-like illness killed 299 people between February and May of 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

Chow said the current outbreak doesn't appear to be anything more than a normal flu virus. Still, parents, teachers and children are taking extra precautions to keep the virus from spreading and many can be seen wearing surgical masks for protection. Health officials hope that by keeping hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong school kids apart for a couple weeks they can break the infection cycle."

Full Story here:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New cases in Egypt

"Health authorities in Egypt announced last week that another child has been hospitalized with the H5N1 avian virus, the country's second case in a child in less than a week.
The 8-year-old boy from the Fayoum district about 85 km's south of Cairo, was hospitalized in Cairo last week after becoming sick with a fever and experiencing breathing difficulties and pulmonary inflammation.
His case which has yet to be confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), will take the number of cases in Egypt to 47.
Health officials say the boy is receiving oseltamivir (Tamiflu).
Earlier this month (March 4th) a 25-year-old woman, also from Fayoum governorate, died of an H5N1 infection but health officials say there appears to be no connection between the boy and the woman.
Egypt has reported four H5N1 cases in the last two weeks including the one fatality.
There have been no reports so far on how the boy may have picked up the bird flu virus and most cases to date in Egypt have been in women or girls, who are the primary caretakers of poultry, however the last two infections have been in boys and infected poultry could be the culprit."

Full story available here: