Grave danger of deadly bird flu pandemic - Feb 24, 2005This is a fast growing concern. Even if the bird flu does not become a
killer pandemic, the threat of it will certainly affect our lives.
HO CHI MINH CITY - THE world is perilously close to a deadly pandemic stemming from bird flu, and governments need to start drafting emergency plans for the disease, top international health officials warned yesterday.
'We at the World Health Organisation believe the world is now in the gravest possible danger of a pandemic,' Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO's head in Asia, said at a bird-flu conference in Vietnam, the country hardest hit by the H5N1 virus.
The world usually had a pandemic every 20 or 30 years, but it has been 40 since the last one, Dr Omi told the audience.
The 'versatile and very resilient' bird-flu virus that swept through large parts of Asia at the end of 2003 would be the source of the next one without concerted action, he said.
The disease has killed 45 people - 32 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and one Cambodian - in cases largely traced to contact with sick birds.
Experts also warned the H5N1 bird-flu virus, which could mutate into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans, could take years to eradicate.
Scientists have long warned that further outbreaks of the disease are inevitable in the region as long as humans live cheek by jowl with livestock.
Animal husbandry practices across the entire region need to be changed.
Still, many countries affected by the virus lack effective diagnostic tools and surveillance systems needed for early warning and timely response.
Wild birds, especially ducks, are natural hosts of the virus and they are often blamed for its spread.
But Dr Jutzi said the evidence suggests that trade in live poultry, the mixing of species on farms and at bird markets, and poor farming practices 'contribute much more to disease spread than wild bird movements'.
# It belongs to what is called the H1 family of flu viruses, which has a notorious human history. Millions died worldwide when H1 appeared in 1918.
# The virus, which has already turned up in cats and now in flies, would take 'many years' to eradicate.
# There is no vaccine for the H5N1 virus, though scientists in the United States, Britain and Vietnam are actively researching one.
Grave danger of deadly bird flu pandemic - Feb 24, 2005