Hungary says bird flu vaccine appears effective in early tests
Naveh: Israel unlikely to escape outbreak, ministry ready; UN: Mideast risk increased after Turkey outbreak.
BUDAPEST, Hungary - Hungary's health minister said Wednesday that his country has developed a vaccine that could protect both humans and animals from the virus causing bird flu.
Health Minister Jenoe Racz was among several dozen Hungarians who underwent bird flu test vaccinations three weeks ago. He said preliminary tests showed that the antibodies to the virus had appeared in his blood.
"The results are preliminary but I can say with 99.9 percent certainty that the vaccine works" against protecting living organisms from the H5N1 virus, Health Minister Jenoe Racz said.
However, the World Health Organization said it was unaware of the details of the Hungarian tests, and was unable to comment on their validity.
Scientists in the United States have already reported positive results from tests on their own H5N1 vaccine, but so far they have not been able to make the vaccine a practical option because it uses too much of a scarce ingredient and it takes two doses to work.
Similar studies have been done in France, where experts have been working with a more technologically sophisticated approach than the Americans. The French are scheduled to reveal the results of their experiments to WHO in two weeks.
Several other countries, including Britain and Germany, are also working on H5N1 vaccines.
Racz, along with the country's chief health officer and the government's health care commissioner, were the first volunteers to receive the vaccine.
Laszlo Bujdoso, the chief health officer, told reporters at the time the experimental inoculations began that the new vaccine will only be widely introduced if bird flu and human flu viruses develop a mutated version that can spread from human to human.
Hungary has the capacity to produce 500,000 vaccinations per week in the event of a world epidemic, Bujdoso added.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing at least 65 people - more than 40 of them in Vietnam - and resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds.
Global health experts are keeping a close eye on bird flu because they fear the lethal H5N1 strain could mutate and trigger a human pandemic.
Israeli, Jordanian health officials to meetIsraeli and Jordanian agriculture officials plan to meet Thursday to coordinate the handling of any domestic outbreak of the avian flu virus.
An official at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said the meeting would take place at a border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank.
A United Nations agency said Wednesday that the risk of bird flu spreading to the Middle East and Africa has markedly increased following the confirmation of outbreaks in Romania and Turkey.
Health Minister Dan Naveh also warned earlier Wednesday that Israel would be unlikely to escape the global outbreak of avian flu, which has recently been identified in Greece and Turkey, Israel's near neighbors.
"Avian flu is a global problem, and there is a reasonable assumption that it will also reach Israel," Naveh told Israel Radio.
Naveh said that if there is a case of bird flu in Israel, all fowl within a three-kilometer radius will be destroyed. Other birds would be innoculated.
He stressed that even if a person became infected with the disease, that did not mean that he or she would go on to infect other people.
He said that contrary to reports, the Health Ministry had sufficient medical technicians and laboratories to carry out bird flu tests and could cope with a heightened demand for them. He declined to comment of the level of preparedness at the Agriculture Ministry.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement that recent confirmation of the H5N1 bird flu strain in Romania and Turkey confirmed the virus is spreading along the pathways of migratory birds outside southeast Asia.
The Agriculture Ministry's chief veterinarian for fowl, Dr. Shimon Pokomonsky, has warned that the fears over an Israeli outbreak of avian flu center on the possibility that a bird whose migratory path passes through Israel may contract the disease in one of the countries in which there is an epidemic, and then somehow come into contact with domestic fowl.
A veterinarian for a commercial company in the chicken farming sector says that when it comes to fowl raised for eating, the coops are almost hermetically sealed, with little chance of infiltration by an affected bird. The same goes for the breeding flocks.
The big problem comes with the coops that house chickens raised for their eggs. According to the veterinarian, these coops are often primitive structures in small communities - moshavim and villages in the periphery.
These coops, which contain "just" a few hundred chickens (as opposed to some 8,000 in a "small" coop used for raising chickens for meat), are open and relatively accessible to birds from the outside that could be carrying diseases.
"There are moshavim on which the coops serve as `occupational therapy' for elderly farmers; and there, one can sometimes see more songbirds than chickens enjoying the feed mixture," the veterinarian says.
Dr. Pokomonsky says he, too, is concerned about these coops, noting that farmers today must be more aware of signs of diseases among their birds. The Agriculture Ministry official adds that veterinarians have been explicitly told to be on the lookout for symptoms that may be an indication of avian flu.
Raising poultry accounts for some 18 percent of Israel's agricultural sector, and some 40 percent of the Israeli livestock industry. At any given moment, there are some 40 million to 42 million chickens in Israel, with around 40 percent of them raised for eating.
The industry yields some 340,000 tons of meat and 1.6 billion eggs a year. And the entire sector is now on the defensive due to concerns that the avian flu will spread to the Middle East.
Palestinian Agriculture Minister Walid Abed Rabbo, who was unaware of the meeting between Jordan and Israel, said the Palestinian Authority had stopped the import of all birds and bird products, but that migrating birds were also a risk.