Bird Flu: Time To Worry?

A team from the Turkish Agriculture Ministry destroys some of the last remaining birds in the village of Kiziksa, near the western Turkish town of Manyas, Thursday Oct. 13, 2005. The European Union announced earlier Thursday that the virus was H5N1, a strain health officials are particularly concerned about. The virus is known to have killed some 60 people in Asia since 2003.
The virulent strain of bird flu that's raising concerns of a global pandemic moved westward Thursday, as EU officials confirmed that poultry in Turkey had been infected with the same H5N1 strain that scientists worry might mutate into a human virus.

The Turkish government said it had contained the outbreak, which killed 1,800 turkeys in the small village of Kiziksa last week. Authorities have culled some 8,600 turkeys and chickens in the area and placed the village under quarantine.

The slow, steady drum beat of human bird flu deaths in Asia has infectious disease experts on alert, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

With countries and pharmaceutical companies scrambling to produce vaccines, is it time to worry about bird flu?

A vaccine made from the exact strain of bird flu virus that is causing human deaths could be one of the world's only defenses.

So far trials show the vaccine will work. The question is whether we will be able to produce enough of it in a hurry in a worst case scenario.

"Right now the estimate would be that it would take about six to eight months to generate a large amount of vaccine," said Dr. John Treanor, who is running the vaccine trial. Treanor added that it is difficult to tell how fast the evolution of a pandemic might be.

Treanor's uncertainty has disaster preparedness experts like Dr. Irwin Redlener losing sleep.

"We are profoundly unprepared to manage a pandemic flu threat right now," said Redlener, who works at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The government is just waking up to the potential for a bird flu disaster, Redlener said.

"We don't have hospital and medical facilities to take care of the anticipated number of patients and people who might get sick," he said.

That we may have a vaccine is one small piece of good news — if the bird flu spares us this year.

"It might be that we have another five years before we have a pandemic," Treanor said. "It might be that a pandemic will arise next month. We just have no way of knowing that."

Turkish Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said authorities were on alert for any cases elsewhere in Turkey, which lies on the path of several migratory bird species.

"We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus," EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said in Brussels, Belgium. "There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China."

Elsewhere, experts confirmed that a strain of the bird flu virus has been found in samples taken from dead birds in Romania's Danube Delta, the agriculture minister said Thursday.

The samples are being sent to Britain to identify the specific strain. So far there are no indications it is the H5N1 strain.

"We hope it's a low intensity virus," said Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur. "We are continuing measures to isolate the affected area."

The Interior Ministry has extended a quarantine in the village of Ceamurlia de Jos, where the infected fowl was found, to people. Only authorities are allowed to enter and exit the remote village, which is located in the east of the delta, close to the Black Sea.

Officials in Romania were slaughtering thousands of birds there as a precaution. The bad news is that slaughter and disinfection are probably not enough to stop the spread of the virus, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports.