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H7 Bird-Flu Strain Found On Poultry Farm in U.K.
posted by admin on 28/04/06

H7 is less deadly than H5N1 strain that has been rapidly making its way around the globe

United Kingdom officials said Wednesday that they will slaughter thousands of chickens at a poultry farm after dead chickens there tested positive for a strain of bird flu.

The strain is thought to be H7 -- not the deadly H5N1 strain that has been rapidly making its way around the globe -- officials from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs said. Further tests were being conducted. The farm is near Dereham, Norfolk, 150 miles from London.

The incident is the second bird flu scare to hit the U.K. in recent weeks, after a dead whooper swan discovered in Scotland tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus. The H5N1 virus hasn't been found in domestic poultry in the U.K., although more than 50 birds died at a quarantine center last year after the infection reached the U.K. through a shipment of Mesias parrots from Taiwan.

Masks May Not Stop Bird Flu

Face masks were everywhere during the SARS outbreak and health specialists expect millions of people will don them again if a global pandemic of bird flu erupts in humans.

But face masks should be considered a defense of last resort, since there's little evidence indicating that wearing a mask can prevent an infection, the Institute of Medicine said Thursday. Further, a huge supply of masks would be needed because they shouldn't be used more than once, said specialists at IOM, an arm of the National Academies, the nation's most prestigious science organization.

Health workers use masks -- simple surgical masks or better-filtering ones called N95 respirators -- mostly to keep from breathing their own germs into open wounds or onto otherwise vulnerable patients. But certain filtering masks also can protect wearers from specific respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis.

The masks are supposed to be used once and discarded. Anticipating a staggering demand if the bird flu or some other super-strain of influenza sparks the next pandemic, federal health officials asked the IOM to determine whether there are masks that could be reused safely, to conserve supplies.

The first question is whether different masks really block influenza, noted the IOM panel -- a question the government didn't ask, but that the scientific advisers said should be studied, urgently.

"Just to double-emphasize: We don't have good data to make a decision about how effective they are or are not," said IOM panel co-chair Donald Burke of Johns Hopkins University.

That information is crucial because some pandemic specialists fear that using a face mask will give people a false sense of security, perhaps encouraging them to go into crowds or near infected patients when instead they should have stayed away. Thus, the report concludes, "respiratory protection is the last resort to control infectious spread."

"We don't want to say, "Don't use it," but don't expect to be fully protected if you do use it. That's a tough public health message to get out," Dr. Burke added.

Officials with the Health and Human Services Department, which is stockpiling pandemic flu supplies, had no immediate comment.

How Flu Spreads

Flu can spread three ways:
By hand. Someone sneezes into his hand and then grabs a doorknob that you touch, or shakes your hand.

By large droplets of virus, if someone is in the direct path of a sneeze or cough. Those heavy droplets fall quickly to the ground.

By tiny particles, which can stay suspended in the air for far longer periods.

No one knows which of those methods is most important. But surgical masks aren't designed to block tiny airborne particles, just larger ones.

While the N95 respirators haven't been tested to see how effectively they block flu virus specifically, they are designed to block small particles. But they must be individually fitted to users' faces so that air doesn't seep into the sides, a problem for men with facial hair. Also, they come only in certain sizes, none for children, and they're uncomfortable to breathe in for long periods.

Regardless, if someone with flu sneezes on any mask wearer, the outside is contaminated, so users must remove them carefully to avoid infecting themselves through direct contact, the IOM panel stressed.

More expensive reusable masks do exist, but there is no good way to decontaminate and reuse surgical masks and standard disposable N95s, the panel concluded.
The panel noted one exception: Someone could reuse his or her own N95 if the outside were protected from surface exposure, such as by placing a disposable surgical mask over it, stored it carefully to avoid creases or damage, and the user thoroughly washed hands before and after removal and rechecked the fit with each wearing.

What about using a handkerchief or some other improvised mask? They're not likely to be as protective as even a surgical mask might be, but the panel hesitated to discourage them for people with no other options on the assumption that some protection might be better than none. Generally, the tighter the fabric weave, the better.

--Dan Burrows of MarketWatch contributed to this article
Copyright © 2006 Associated Press

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