- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

Federal health officials said yesterday the U.S. poultry supply is safe for Thanksgiving dinner next week but the nation is still vulnerable to a bird-flu outbreak.

“I have no doubt in the safety of the poultry in the United States,” Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s animal and plant health inspection service, said at a Senate committee hearing yesterday.

But “there is always more we can do to prepare” for the emergence of avian influenza, he said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said yesterday’s hearing was meant to quell consumer fears about eating poultry this holiday season.

“While this is a legitimate concern, there is a good deal of confusion and misunderstanding” about the bird-flu issue, Mr. Chambliss said.

The current bird-flu strain, which can be fatal to humans, has infected parts of Southeast Asia and Europe in recent weeks. The virus has not been reported in the United States and has not mutated into a human-to-human strain.

The virus, which is primarily a poultry disease, has infected people by bird-to-human contact. But scientists and international health leaders are concerned the virus could mutate into a form that easily spreads among people.

Dr. David Nabarro, senior system coordinator for avian and human influenza for the United Nations, this week said the probability of the virulent H5N1 virus strain mutating is “more likely” than when the outbreaks first occurred in 2003.

He forecast that the next bird-flu outbreak would be in the Middle East or Africa. “Personally, I am really scared of the bird flu because I think it is deeply entrenched in the bird populations of several bird-dense countries,” Dr. Nabarro told reporters at a meeting in Washington Tuesday.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said yesterday at the hearing that the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal health agency in charge of the CDC, would hold a meeting with state and local officials in the next few weeks to outline bird-flu emergency plans.

“We should not be surprised if a bird with the H5N1 strain enters the United States someday. We need to be prepared,” she said.

Biotech firm gets new funding

CytImmune Sciences Inc., a Rockville biotechnology company, this week won $5 million in additional funding from private donors and Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development.

The investment will be used to support clinical trials for the company’s lead drug compound, Aurimune, and to develop other drugs. Aurimune is a tumor-killing agent that is meant to be combined with current cancer treatments to target tumors without affecting healthy organs.

Concern over U.S. health care

The rising cost of employee health care was the seventh-ranked challenge among U.S. chief executive officers, according to a new report by the Conference Board Inc., a private research group.

Top executives in Europe rated the issue as 72nd and Asian CEOs said health care ranked near the bottom, or their 77th concern.

Health Care runs Fridays. Call 202/636-4892 or e-mail mhiggins@washingtontimes.com.

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