Expert says bird flu more likely to fly in by plane than by birds

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The United States, China and France have all announced new efforts to fight a possible pandemic of avian flu, including $500 million to monitor the virus in poultry and practice runs for dealing with a dreaded outbreak.

U.S. officials who detailed parts of their $7.1 billion plan to prepare for H5N1 avian influenza, should it begin a human pandemic, amid criticism that it was too late and incomplete.

Apparently the U.S. plan includes $251 million to help detect and contain outbreaks in affected areas before they spread, and also includes cash for testing an experimental H5N1 vaccine in Vietnam.

It will also support and help countries develop their own plans.

According to the Chinese media a special Cabinet meeting held by Premier Wen Jiabao has promised to allocate 2 billion yuan ($248 million) from this year's fiscal budget to prevent the spread of bird flu.

Since 2003 the H5N1 avian influenza has infected 122 people and killed 62 in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

It has decimated poultry flocks across many parts of Asia and has been recently detected in birds in Europe.

Scientists say it is making steady mutations that could allow it to spread easily from person to person and cause a catastrophic global pandemic.

The World Health Organization has been urging countries to prepare as quickly as possible and says some sort of pandemic is inevitable.

France announced the first test of its readiness to tackle an outbreak of bird flu with a practice run sealing off an area around a village in the west of the country.

At a meeting in Brisbane, Australia, of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum this week, no specific recommendations were agreed on, but apparently Australian officials have discussed holding a simulated avian flu outbreak to help them prepare for a real one.

Thailand reported a new outbreak of bird flu in poultry on Wednesday and officials believe the illegal movement of birds, especially fighting cocks and ducks, could be spreading the virus.

Laboratory results have confirmed H5N1 in chickens and pigeons in the central province of Ang Thong.

According to livestock officials six of the seven infected provinces were clustered in central Thailand, with the other, Kalasin, in the northeast where fighting cocks might have caught the deadly disease from those in the infected central region.

Health officials have expressed concerns that migratory birds could carry the virus from the edges of Europe to Africa where they fear it could spread quickly.

Dr. Karim Tounkara, an expert on animal resources in the African Union, says the threat is very real.

He says that if any cases of the disease occur it will cause havoc for the continent because the bird mortality rate can reach 80 percent, and once domestic birds are infected, the virus will spread like a fire in the bush.

However Wildlife Conservation Society veterinarian William Karesh says he does not anticipate migratory birds spreading the flu to North America since there was little mingling of birds from the two hemispheres in the Arctic.

Karesh says it is more likely to fly in an airplane carrying infected people rather than in wild birds.

Karesh echoed recommendations from U.N. officials who have advocated spending more cash on controlling H5N1 in birds.

Despite the real concern in Europe, reports suggest poultry sales were recovering from a sharp fall last month.

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