16 February 2005 The global community needs to step up the battle against bird flu in affected Asian countries to avoid a potential global human influenza pandemic, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.
The virus continues to circulate in poultry and specifically in wetland ducks in Asia, and major efforts are needed to curb it before other regions of the globe are affected by the virus, which in a worst-case scenario could mutate into a human pandemic with potentially disastrously deadly results. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20, which is not related to bird flu, is thought to have killed 20 million people worldwide.
Countries hit by the virus, H5N1, will have to invest more in controlling the disease by improving animal health and veterinary systems, the FAO and the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), a 167-member inter-governmental organization, said in a joint statement. Donor funding is required to support national bird flu campaigns, especially in the poorest countries, they added.
The latest scare has been sparked by a new outbreak of the disease, which has already infected 13 people in Viet Nam, 12 of them fatally, since mid-December. In addition there has been one confirmed and one suspected case, both fatal, in neighbouring Cambodia. Last year H5N1 sickened some 50 people, over three dozen fatally, and led to the deaths or culling of more than 100 million birds in nearly a dozen Asian countries.
The two agencies are organizing a regional meeting on avian influenza in animals in Asia next week in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.
Chief veterinary officers from the region, national scientists, representatives of international and regional organizations and donor representatives will discuss scientific advances, diagnosis, surveillance, prevention and control, rehabilitation and restructuring, trade and international cooperation and human health implications.