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WHO: Pandemic Threat Not Exaggerated

By Kate Walker
Oxford, England (UPI) Jan 24, 2006
The World Health Organization Tuesday responded to accusations that the threat of a global avian-influenza pandemic had been exaggerated.

Lee Jong-wook, director general of the WHO, told delegates at a conference in Geneva: "Concern has been expressed that we are overplaying this threat. We are not. We can only reduce the devastating human and economic impact of a pandemic if we all take the threat seriously now and prepare thoroughly. This is a global problem.

"The Turkey experience demonstrates the dangers posed by avian influenza in birds and the vital importance of surveillance and effective early warning systems," Dr. Lee told the conference.

"It also reiterates the threat of a pandemic of influenza in humans. A pandemic could arise with little or no warning from the animal side."

The human avian-influenza infections in Turkey came as a surprise to the global community, as they behaved in a different manner to the incidences of human infection in Southeast Asia, where the disease was first spotted in birds in 1997.

There had been a significant history of outbreaks in birds across the region before a human being was first infected. In Turkey, however, the first reported outbreak in poultry occurred mere months before the first reported case of infection in humans.


-- Following reports of two suspected cases of avian influenza in the north of the country, Cyprus is beginning a pre-emptive cull of free-roaming poultry flocks.

The two dead birds came from the same village in the Turkish Cypriot side of the island. Turkish Cypriot authorities said Monday that preliminary tests confirmed the presence of a form of avian influenza but that further tests were needed to confirm H5N1 infection.

-- Negotiations between the WHO and the Chinese government over the handing of avian-influenza samples continue.

The samples in question are tissue samples from contaminated birds and are vital for research purposes so that scientists may better understand the virus and its mutations.

Chinese laboratories have shared samples from human cases of avian influenza and have passed on some data collected from the animal samples, but the information provided is not enough for the scientists to have a complete overview of the virus and its changes.

-- The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that Afghanistan is at "huge risk" of avian influenza.

The war-torn Central Asian country, where insurgent violence has been on the increase in recent months, affecting already limited resources, is on the flight path of millions of migrating birds, and approximately 85 percent of its population lives in close contact with poultry.

Serge Verniau, the UNFAO representative in Afghanistan, said: "As Afghanistan is at the overlapping of several migratory routes, there is a high possibility the country could be infected. We couldn't say it is inevitable but the risk is huge. If no action is taken immediately, the risk will increase.

"The enemy is at the gate."

Source: United Press International

Related Links

London Scientists Discover H5N1 Mutation
Oxford, England (UPI) Jan 23, 2006
London scientists have discovered a mutation that may make H5N1 more transmissible.

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