Winter in the Northern Hemisphere means one chilling prospect for global health officials: it's bird-flu season. Nine countries have announced outbreaks in recent weeks, and a replay of 2006--when H5N1 killed 80 people and spread to the Middle East and Africa--could well be on the way. In an effort to stay ahead of the virus, the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday said it is giving $132.5 million to makers of bird-flu vaccines that rely on immune-system boosters called adjuvants. "In the event of an influenza pandemic," said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, "adjuvant could provide a way to extend a limited vaccine supply to more people." Here's a look at what's helping kick in such cash.
In Egypt three family members died in late December of H5N1, probably contracted from infected poultry in the household. On Jan. 12 Nigeria announced a cull of some 20,000 birds after two farms reported outbreaks.
In the north, more than 100 ducks were found dead from H5N1 on Jan. 10; further south, the disease killed several wild birds in December. A major poultry exporter, Thailand is a hot zone for the virus; 17 Thais have died from it since 2003.
Indonesia, where millions of people reside in close quarters with live poultry, led the world with 57 human fatalities by the end of 2006. Four more people have died since Jan. 10, and several patients remain hospitalized. The 18-year-old son of one victim tested positive for H5N1 as well, raising fears of human-to-human transmission.
A scaly-breasted munia, found dead in a crowded shopping district on New Year's Eve, and a crested goshawk collected on Jan. 9 both tested positive for H5N1, prompting concerns that the virus had returned to the city that reported the world's first human cases in 1997.
Seven of Vietnam's 64 provinces have reported poultry outbreaks this year, and more than 30,000 birds have been culled since December. Officials fear that caged birds transported on crowded buses and trains during next month's Lunar New Year festivities could spread the virus throughout the country. Over the past four years, 42 people in Vietnam have died of avian flu.