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Bird flu

Winter months may reduce Bird flu damage, but risk still high, says WHO

Monday, September 18, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: bird flu, avian flu, the WHO


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(NewsTarget) The H5N1 strain of bird flu -- responsible for killing 144 people worldwide since 2003 -- is expected to be one of the top items discussed at the annual regional meeting of the World Health Organization in Auckland, New Zealand this week. An official for the organization said while Asia's colder months may lessen the disease's damage, it is doubtful that risk factors will change.

"The virus seems to be very embedded in the environment and, in our view, the risk of a pandemic continues unabated," Richard Nesbit, WHO's acting regional director for the Western Pacific. "Recently, we've seen new outbreaks in poultry in Cambodia and also in Thailand, besides seeing continuing outbreaks in Indonesia."

Currently, all human cases of bird flu have involved close contact with infected poultry, but certain cases -- including a family of seven that died after spreading the disease among themselves -- have lead scientists to warn that the disease could still mutate to a form easily transmittable between humans.

Nesbit noted that there was still encouraging news about the disease, exemplified by Vietnam's progress in containing the virus. Vietnam is has had 42 bird flu fatalities, the second highest toll behind Indonesia's 49, but no new human cases have struck Vietnam since November of 2005. The government credits its success to a mass poultry-vaccination campaign and strong political action.

Since three years of bird flu news has all but dominated the media, Nesbit feared that people may be growing tired of the subject, but warned the public not to let its guard down.

"The scientists are telling us that the risk is just as present as ever ... We are seeing continuing evolution of these viruses and that's been very well documented now both in humans but as well also in poultry," he said. "After three years now, I'm sure that many journalists and the public are starting to get tired of the same message that there's a potential global pandemic around the corner, but we have a responsibility to continue to give this message."

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