Nov 8, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The United States proposed today that a small group of experts be appointed immediately to plan a fast response in case an influenza pandemic erupts, as an international conference on avian and pandemic flu continued in Geneva.Stewart Simonson, assistant secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), proposed that the World Health Organization (WHO) set up the expert panel, according to the Associated Press (AP). He also suggested that the panel be assigned to make a plan for closing gaps in flu surveillance and to complete both plans in time for the WHO’s executive board meeting in January.”We must go beyond generalized planning and well-intentioned expressions of cooperation,” the AP quoted Simonson as saying. “Now is the time to speak and act with specificity.”Hundreds of experts in human and animal health and other fields gathered at the WHO in Geneva yesterday for the 3-day conference. The stated goal of the meeting is to forge an international consensus on how to combat H5N1 avian flu and prepare for a potential human flu pandemic.Experts at the meeting disagreed today on whether the H5N1 virus can be eradicated in poultry, according to another AP report. Controlling the virus in poultry is considered the best way to keep it from evolving into a pandemic strain.Samuel Jutzi of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told the AP that the world could stamp out the virus in poultry in “a matter of a year,” provided enough money is invested. However, current spending is not enough to do the job, he said.Jutzi, who was interviewed on the sidelines of the conference, observed that the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong all have eliminated highly pathogenic avian flu from their poultry stocks in recent years, the AP reported. He said the FAO would reveal tomorrow its estimate of the cost of eradicating the virus in poultry.Alejandro Thiermann of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) told the AP he does not think the virus can be eradicated in poultry. “The virus is here to stay until, through genetic mutations, it really causes havoc or it’s defeated by nature and disappears,” he said.On the other hand, Thiermann said the virus can be managed by rapidly detecting and stopping new outbreaks, according to the story. “We certainly have the tools to bring it to a point where we can manage it and almost eliminate the chance of it becoming a pandemic strain,” he said.In other news, lawmakers in Washington, DC, today voiced objections to President Bush’s $7.1 billion strategy for battling avian and pandemic flu, the AP reported. Some Republicans called the plan too costly, while Democrats said it shortchanges state and local governments. The plan was unveiled last week.Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said he would not support the proposal because it would increase the budget deficit. At a hearing today, he asked if the administration would help Congress find savings in other programs to pay for pandemic preparedness, according to the story. But HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said Bush views the pandemic threat as an emergency.Democrats at the hearing questioned whether the administration plan provides enough money for state and local preparedness, the AP reported. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., called the plan “long on directions and short on resources for nonfederal partners in pandemic preparedness.”Meanwhile, the drug company Roche announced today it had stopped selling oseltamivir (Tamiflu) in China and was turning over supplies to the government, according to another AP story.Supplies of the antiviral drug are “being transferred to China’s Ministry of Health for centralized allocation and distribution,” Roche’s Chinese division said in a statement quoted by the AP. The statement said that in case of a pandemic, “the government is in the best position to handle rapid response and distribution.”Oseltamivir is one of very few drugs believed to be effective against the H5N1 virus. Concerns about possible hoarding of the drug recently prompted Roche to restrict sales in the United States, Germany, Canada, and Switzerland.Yesterday Roche announced it would increase production of oseltamivir to 300 million treatment courses annually by 2007, according to another AP report. That would be a tenfold increase in production since 2004, the company said.Roche said it had received requests from more than 150 governments and companies to produce generic versions of oseltamivir or to get involved in outsourced production, the story said. The company reported it had begun negotiations with eight companies and several governments, including Taiwan and Vietnam.See also:WHO page on Geneva meeting, with links to presentationshttp://www.who.int/mediacentre/events/2005/meeting_avian_influenza/en/index.html
AJ MACLEAN/Herald photoThe Wisconsin Badgers will head to Evanston Saturday to take on the Northwestern Wildcats in an intriguing matchup of offenses that include both strong running backs and highly capable quarterbacks.Northwestern is a team of extremes. They are dead last in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing over 505 total yards per game; yet they are ranked third in the Big Ten in total offense, netting over 470 yards per game.On offense, they are led by a fourth-year starter — quarterback Brett Basanez — and true freshman Tyrell Sutton.Basanez is a solid, reliable senior quarterback that has only thrown one interception all year along with four touchdown passes. He is third in the Big Ten with a 64 percent completion rate and has managed the offense very well.”He really has a knowledge of [the offense] and a strong arm, gets it out there, manages it all,” Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. “They will move the football.”Despite Basanez’s leadership, Northwestern’s main offensive punch is in true freshman running back Tyrell Sutton. Sutton is tied for third in the nation in rushing touchdowns with eight, and his rushing average of 132 yards per game also ranks third nationally.”He reminds me of an Anthony [Davis]-type back, very quick,” Alvarez said. “He’s a short guy, short and stocky, very quick [and] gets north and south.”Sutton will be facing a Wisconsin run defense that has surrendered only 77 yards per game, which ranks second to Ohio State in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has also only allowed one rushing touchdown all year. However, the Badgers have yet to face a true test in the running game, and the Wildcats should provide it.”Difficulties are, with four guys wide, you’ve got to move people out of the box,” Alvarez said. “Basically you have two running backs. You have the quarterback and one other running back. So they can scheme you. … That makes the running game that much more difficult to stop.”The Wisconsin pass defense has been more lenient this year, giving up 260 passing yards per game, which ranks eighth in the conference. Wisconsin will have to avoid giving up long passing plays, something the Badger defense couldn’t prevent against Bowling Green and Indiana, and something Basanez and wide receivers Shaun Herbert and Jonathan Fields could use to their advantage.”Brett Basanez and that offense are very dangerous. They can strike quick,” wide receiver Brandon Williams said. “So the longer we have the ball and can try to get them out of their tempo or their flow, it’s better for us. But I think we’ll be ready.”Despite Northwestern’s defensive struggles, running back Brian Calhoun expects some new looks from the Northwestern defense.”They’ve had two weeks to prepare for us now, so we’re definitely expecting to see a lot of new stuff, especially in the run game, because they’re probably going to try to stop the run.” Calhoun said. “We’re going to try to attack the back end, because the back end’s given up a few big plays over the season.”Although Calhoun hasn’t broken off a long run yet this season — his longest run is 26 yards — Alvarez believes the big plays will come soon enough.”There were a couple of [runs] … where he sees nothing but goal line in front of him and a lot of yardage, a big hit, and somebody dives and just nips his toe,” Alvarez said. “But he’ll get some of those before the year is over.”Calhoun will again be in the backfield without senior fullback Matt Bernstein due to an injury, so Chris Pressley and Bill Rentmeester will get looks at fullback Saturday.”I feel as though we have a luxury that we have two guys that we can go to that are physical players and can hold up blocking linebackers and defensive ends,” Alvarez said. “But now we have to give them a crash course on all the different looks that they’re going to get.”One interesting focus will be on special teams, as the top two punt returners in the conference will face off against each other. Northwestern defensive back Marquice Cole has returned one punt for a touchdown this season and leads the Big Ten with an average of 30 yards per punt return on seven tries.For the Badgers, Williams has returned two punts for touchdowns this year and averages 19.5 yards per return, which ranks second in the conference. He is also first in the Big Ten with 35.2 yards per kickoff return.The Badgers have certainly learned not to take the Wildcat team for granted in the past few years, especially when facing them on the road. Northwestern won the last meeting in Evanston in 2003 and Wisconsin has not won at Ryan Field since 1999.Saturday’s matchup should provide more of the same, and the Badgers will have to be sharp if they hope to leave Evanston with a 6-0 record.