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Bird flu pushed back – but threat of a human pandemic remains

A veterinary officer inspects live ducks in a market in Viet Nam.

A veterinary officer inspects live ducks in
a market in Viet Nam.
FAO/Hoang Dinh Nam

The avian flu virus spread rapidly after first appearing in 2003, but a prompt international response has led to the disease being contained. However, since outbreaks continue to be reported in a wide range of countries and the threat of a virus mutation affecting humans could still sweep across the world, urgent preparations to plan for this remain critical.

The Story

Apart from occasional news stories about a new outcrop of bird flu, the threat of a global pandemic has receded from the world’s headlines. Complacency is dangerous - there remains a continuing risk of a virus mutation which could allow it to be easily transmitted among humans causing a global pandemic with millions of lives at risk. Over the last three years, the avian flu virus has spread rapidly in East Asia, where it first erupted, and then on to locations in North and West Africa, moving to central Europe and as far west as the United Kingdom. This highly pathogenic avian influenza was reported in 15 countries in 2005. By 2006 it was found in at least 55 countries and territories. More than 200 million chickens were culled in the effort to control the outbreak. Rural economies suffered, and people of modest income frequently faced shortages of their main protein source. An international response began immediately after the first outbreak and intensified with the establishment in 2005 of a UN System Influenza Coordinator (UNSIC), leading to improved responses to outbreaks in poultry in many countries during the last year. By mid-2007, prevention and control strategies developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health had been adopted by many countries. Working with national governments, by the end of 2007, they reduced to six the number of countries in which the disease is known to be entrenched. Intensive control efforts – including vaccination of poultry – are being mounted in these settings to get the disease under control and eliminate outbreaks when they occur. Under present conditions, most other countries are able to control outbreaks when they occur. While this tough, resilient virus isn’t making the news, bird flu has not gone away nor is it less lethal. What we have now is breathing room to make urgent preparations.

The Context

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

UN Department of Public Information:
Tim Wall
Tel: +1 212 963 5851
Send an email
http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/07/contactus.asp?address=3

USEFUL WEB LINKS:

UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza (UNSIC)
http://www.un-influenza.org

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
http://www.fao.org/avianflu/en/index.html

World Health Organization (WHO)
http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/index.html

World Bank
http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/
EXTHEALTHNUTRITIONANDPOPULATION/EXTTOPAVIFLU/0,,menuPK:
1793605~pagePK:64168427~piPK:64168435~theSitePK:1793593,00.html
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

http://www.unicef.org/avianflu/index.html