10/25/2006, 00.00
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Bird flu warning prevents world pandemic

UN official says early warning on possible virus mutation generated right response in governments, preventing an immediate pandemic. He makes an appeal for Indonesia and Africa.

New York (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 30 countries have recorded bird flu outbreaks. Although the number of H5N1 virus-related deaths is rising, the United Nations is satisfied that a quick response by governments last year prevented a pandemic, said David Nabarro, a senior UN health coordinator. In February Mr Nabarro warned countries against the possibility of person-to-person transmission or an imminent pandemic because of a possible mutation in the H5N1 virus.

Except for the Americas, the virus has infected birds around the world and led to the cullying of millions of poultry, geese and other birds.

"In 2006, we did see more than 30 countries reporting outbreaks," Nabarro said. "Unfortunately, the virus continues to affect humans—with 256 people known to be affected and 151 dying" since 2003.

The monthly trend in bird flu-related human deaths is upward, especially because of Indonesia, the most affected country.

The UN official has called for stepped up economic and organisational assistance, especially for Indonesia and Africa.

In his view, the H5N1 avian influenza virus should remain a major issue for most of the world for at least five years, and perhaps 10 years.

One key to tackling the bird flu is to change poultry rearing practices.

Bird flu seems to be spread by a combination of wild birds that migrate and trade in infected birds.

Many experts also believe it will take five to 10 years to change poultry rearing practices, especially in countries where poultry is plentiful and birds are kept in the backyard.

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