Avian Influenza
WHO warns of avian flu pandemic in poultry
Feb 4, 2006 - 9:24:37 PM

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that new outbreaks of the deadly bird flu virus in poultry are expected this year, but the incidence will be only sporadic in humans.

Repeating the call to countries to "come up with strategies to deal with a possible pandemic", the UN body in a statement from Geneva said "the priorities for 2006 would be to continue to work closely with the 192-member states and with international organisations to improve surveillance of the disease.

Despite recent human cases in Turkey and Iraq, "a surge in human deaths seems unlikely", was the reassuring WHO statement on Friday.

"This is still pretty much an animal disease and is rare in humans. The control measures should be containment of the source at the farm level," said Margaret Chang, Director of WHO's Communicable Disease branch.

Commenting on the test results of the recent suspected human cases of bird flu in Iraq, Chang confirmed that a 15-year old girl who died of pulmonary conditions had the H5N1 virus.

Results in two others cases in Iraq were not yet available, Chang said.

She corrected rumours in the media that there were large numbers of people infected by the avian influenza in Iraq.

During the last two years, several countries have reported outbreaks of avian influenza caused by the H5N1 virus in people, and close to 100 have died, most of them in Vietnam.

In addition more than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in an effort to contain the disease.

So far, the virus has only spread from infected animals to humans, but WHO has warned that it could change into a form that spreads easily from person to person, triggering an influenza pandemic that could kill millions of people worldwide.

"In humans, treatment with antiviral medicines is one way to reduce death and illness, and WHO has been building up drug stockpiles at different locations worldwide for quick distribution in case of an emergency," the statement said.

Chang said the agency has been assisting the government of Iraq in building its stockpiles of drugs and that a shipment of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu was on its way to that country.

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