Prominent health officials and politicians are advising people not panic about a possible influenza pandemic, despite the steady spread of a deadly strain of avian flu among humans.
At a meeting in Ottawa health officials and world leaders recommended that more be done to stem the spread of avian flu, boost research on vaccines and increase surveillance of affected areas.
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said the global fight against a flu pandemic could be undermined if governments fail to prevent mass panic in the event of widespread fatalities.
To date almost 70 people in Southeast Asia have died of avian flu and the outbreak among birds has now reached Europe.
Many experts say the world is overdue for a flu pandemic and predict the most likely cause will be an animal strain that mutates, allowing it to be passed easily from human to human.
Despite increasing concern on the part of the public, created in part by the media, Margaret Chan, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization, said the general population should remember it is relatively hard to catch bird flu.
Chan says as yet it is not a pandemic and WHO does not want the public to have unnecessary anxiety.
Chan and Canadian officials said the public should understand there are clear differences between avian flu, seasonal flu and a pandemic that could kill tens of millions, such as the Spanish flu of 1918-1919.
At the conference in Ottawa on combating future pandemics, Chan said they are taking very drastic actions to reduce the risk of avian influenza to animals and birds, but there are clear signs the continuing talk about a possible pandemic is making people nervous.
Following soaring demand Roche Canada, a unit of Swiss drug maker Roche, has suspended Canadian sales of its antiviral Tamiflu until the flu season starts.
According to Canada's chief public health officer it makes no sense for people to stockpile Tamiflu, since no one knows when the next pandemic would start.