Will the world beat bird flu?- experts doubt it

As international health experts finalised plans at a UN conference in Geneva, on the spread of bird flu, Vietnam, reported its 42nd death from the avian virus.

To date over 60 people, mainly in Asia, have died from the virus.

Although veterinary experts at the UN's agriculture agency say they believe that eradicating the H5N1 virus in poultry is the best defense against a global pandemic, many are dubious that will happen.

It would apparently be feasible if enough money was spent as then the virus could be eliminated from the world's poultry population within a year.

However for this to be achieved much more money needs to be spent.

The officials from over 100 countries, meeting at the World Health Organization (WHO), have planned what needs to be done in preparation for a human pandemic.

Bernard Vallat, the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) told the conference that reducing the presence of the virus, will reduce the probability of a human pandemic.

Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), stressed that time was vital and early warning systems need much more work.

Although there have been no outbreaks of a human pandemic strain anywhere in the world, health experts say the signs are there that one is coming.

Klaus Stohr, team coordinator of the WHO's Global Influenza Programme re-iterated that strong surveillance and response networks for early detection of a pandemic virus will make a difference.

Apparently the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong have eliminated the deadly bird flu from their poultry populations, by using the available instruments backed up by the necessary resources, and succeeded in a short period of time.

What is clear is that scientists are learning more about the virus and countries are getting better at reacting to the problem, but the spread of the virus continues.

Dr. Mike Ryan, director of epidemic and pandemic alert and response at WHO, believes to target the elimination of the virus in poultry is a worthy aim.

In its current form, H5N1 does not easily infect people, however, 124 human infections have been recorded, mostly in poultry farmers or others in close contact with birds, and at least 63 people have died.

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