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Below is a roundup of the key developments on the spread of the bird flu virus (H5N1) and the threat it poses to human health. Each title is a link to the full article.

Click here to see the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures of confirmed human cases.

1–4 February 2008

Bird flu breakthrough for Australian scientists
Scientists in Australia have developed a technique that will enable further study of the bird flu virus without the risk of spreading infection. The method involved inserting the deadly H5 protein into what they describe as a harmless 'virus-like' particle (source: Griffith University).

24–31 January 2008

Indonesian death toll passes 100 mark
The bird flu virus claimed four more lives in Indonesia, bringing the country's death toll to 102. The latest was a 32-year-old Indonesian man from Tangerang, west of Jakarta. It follows the death of a 23-year-old woman from East Jakarta. The WHO has confirmed the deaths, along with those of a nine-year-old boy from Depok, south of Jakarta, a 31-year-old woman from East Jakarta, and a 30-year-old man from the outskirts of Jakarta (source: Reuters, Bloomberg, Press Association).

Europe-wide resistance to Tamiflu
European public health specialists have discovered significant resistance to potential bird flu drug Tamiflu, questioning its ability to treat the disease. Previous studies had indicated much lower resistance, but 13 per cent of H1N1 samples tested had the resistance-conferring mutation. The European Centres for Disease Control insist that the drug could still provide some benefits (source: Financial Times).

16–23 January 2008

WHO launches system to track bird flu samples
The WHO has launched an electronic tracking system that will show how and where samples of bird flu virus are used. It follows concerns from developing countries, such as Indonesia, over the use of samples to make cheap vaccines they may not get access to (source: Reuters). 

Vietnam suffers first bird flu death of the year
The WHO has confirmed the death of a 32-year-old man from Tuyen Quang province in northern Vietnam from bird flu, the country's first human case this year (source: Canadian Press).

Indonesia reports ninety-seventh bird flu death
A eight-year-old Indonesian boy from Tangerang, outside Jakarta, has died of bird flu. The WHO has confirmed the death (source: Xinhua).

Doctors 'mistake bird flu for typhoid'
Doctors have mistaken bird flu for typhoid and at least five other diseases in South-East Asia, lowering the chances of survival, according to the WHO. Early signs of H5N1 consist of general symptoms such as diaorrhea and vomiting that make it difficult to detect the disease clinically. Doctors make a correct initial diagnosis in less than 12 per cent of cases. The virus may also be infecting people by mixing with dust and fertiliser, they report in the New England Journal of Medicine (source: New England Journal of Medicine).

Indian outbreak 'far more serious than the previous two'
The WHO warned that the latest outbreak of bird flu in India is far more serious than previous ones. "More serious risk factors are associated with this current outbreak than previously encountered, including that the affected areas are more widespread and because of proximity to extended border areas," they say (source: Agence France Presse).

8–15 January 2008

Indonesian girl dies of bird flu
A 16-year-old girl from the Bekasi, west of Jakarta, has died from the H5N1 virus. The WHO have confirmed the death, along with that of a 32-year-old woman from Tangerang, west of Jakarta (source: Xinhua).

Father 'probably caught bird flu from son'
The Chinese man killed by bird flu last month probably passed the disease onto his father, say health officials. However, they say there is no evidence that the virus has mutated into a form easily transmitted between humans (source: Reuters).

Important flu factor identified
Scientists have identified a key factor that allows flu viruses to infect cells in the upper respiratory tract. Writing in Nature Biotechnology, they say this could shed light on how the H5N1 virus might change to spread through human populations (source: Nature Biotechnology).

Vietnam launches new biosafety laboratory
Vietnam has launched a new biosafety laboratory in Hanoi, which will allow the country to test dangerous viral infections such as H5N1 and SARS (source: Xinhua).

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