WHO Official Warns of a Growing Global Threat From Avian Influenza

SHANGHAI, China -- The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that greater efforts will be needed if the world is to head off the threat of an avian influenza pandemic springing from the presence of the avian influenza H5N1 virus in poultry in Asia.  "Unless intensive efforts are made, a pandemic is very likely to occur," Dr. Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, told a news conference in Shanghai.


Omi cited four reasons for concern:

     -- the H5N1 virus causing avian influenza among poultry in Asia is

        circulating more widely than initially believed;

     -- the cyclical history of previous influenza outbreaks means a pandemic

        is due;

     -- virtually nobody would be immune to a new human influenza virus that

        resulted from outbreaks in poultry; and

     -- the increased global movement of people and goods means the virus

        could spread far more quickly and extensively than in the past.


"We need to strengthen systems and human capacity so that countries can

detect, report and respond immediately to emerging threats," Omi said.


Since the first reported outbreaks of avian influenza in Asia at the

beginning of this year, there have been 39 confirmed human cases in the region,

28 of whom died.  The latest case was on Sept. 8, when an 18-year-old man

died in eastern Thailand.  He had been raising fighting cocks.  H5N1 has been

confirmed in nine Asian countries, where tens of millions chickens have died

or been slaughtered.


When asked why Asia had been hit by diseases originating in animals, such as

SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and avian influenza, Omi explained

that one of the reasons was the "unhealthy" manner in which some animals were

being raised.  For example, ducks and chickens should not be reared together,

he said.


Source: World Health Organization