01/24/2006, 00.00
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WHO denies exaggerating bird flu pandemic threat

China reported a 10th person diagnosed with bird flu virus. WHO says there is a serious threat and that a pandemic could arise with little or no warning from the animal side.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) denies it is exaggerating the risk of a human influenza pandemic, while China reported a 10th person had been diagnosed with the potentially fatal bird flu virus.

A 29-year-old woman from south-west China was diagnosed with the H5N1 virus, the health ministry says. She is in critical condition in hospital. The woman, surnamed Cao, ran a shop in a farm goods market in Jinhua Town in Sichuan Province. Six of the 10 known victims of bird flu in China have died. The WHO has confirmed bird flu as the cause of death of a young brother and sister in Indonesia this month, taking the death toll to at least 82 since the virus re-emerged in late 2003.

WHO director-general Lee Jong-Wook says the threat of a pandemic is a genuine one. "Concern has been expressed that we are overplaying this threat. We are not," he said in an opening speech to the WHO's executive board, holding a week-long meeting in Geneva. "We can only reduce the devastating human and economic impact of a pandemic if we all take the threat seriously now and prepare thoroughly. This is a global problem," he said.

The United Nations agency has predicted between two and 7.4 million people could die if a pandemic sweeps the world. Wealthy donor nations last week pledged $US1.9 billion to fight bird flu at a conference in Beijing. The money will be spent on measures to eradicate a virus which is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia.

Turkey recently became the sixth country to report human cases of bird flu, taking it to the gates of Europe and the Middle East. Turkey has reported 21 cases of bird flu, including the deaths of four children, but the WHO says that human cases appear to be winding down there following mass poultry culling and public education campaigns. WHO experts will help nearby countries deemed "at risk" to assess the situation. These include Syria, Iran, Iraq, as well as Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Iraq's Health Minister Abdul Mutleb Mohammed Ali said countries in the region were ill prepared for bird flu. "We don't feel we are ready yet," the Iraqi Minister said.

"Many member states may lack adequate capacity to diagnose and confirm avian influenza. There is difficulty in obtaining antiviral drugs for stockpiling," he told the WHO meeting.

Unlike in East Asia - where outbreaks had been detected in poultry well ahead of human cases - the "unique feature" in Turkey had been "almost no prior warning of infection in poultry", Dr Lee said, a South Korean doctor. "The Turkey experience demonstrates the dangers poised by avian influenza in birds and the vital importance of surveillance and effective early warning systems," he said. "A pandemic could arise with little or no warning from the animal side."


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See also
Bird flu: Jakarta collaborates with the WHO, previously accused of "exploitation"
Bird flu feared more virulent in Eastern Europe than in Asia
Bird flu at the gates of Europe, second death in Turkey
Indonesian 13-year-old girl dies of bird flu
Bird flu: WHO rules out epidemic in China


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