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April 05, 2006

U.N. Notes Quick Spread Of Bird FluCBS4 Boston - New England's Source For Breaking News, Weather, and Sports for Boston, Worcester, Cape Cod, Nashua and More: Health

(AP) BEIJING The deadly bird flu virus has spread at lightning speed over the past three months, infecting birds in 30 new countries — double the number previously stricken since 2003, the U.N.'s bird flu point man said Tuesday.

"This is a really serious global situation," Dr. David Nabarro the U.N.'s chief coordinator for avian influenza, told reporters in Beijing. "During the last three months globally, there has been an enormous and rapid spread of H5N1."

Thirty new countries and territories in Africa, Europe, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East have reported H5N1 infections in birds this year, he said. That rapid acceleration compares with the previous two and half years, when only 15 countries — mostly in Asia — reported bird flu.

China was Nabarro's first stop on a tour that includes Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia — countries where the H5N1 virus is considered endemic in poultry stocks.

In Beijing, he met with Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, who heads the country's bird flu command center, along with officials from the ministries of health and agriculture. He said China has pledged full cooperation in working with the international community to help control the spread of the disease.

Nabarro added that some of the $1.9 billion pledged by the international community in January for bird flu and pandemic preparedness has started reaching countries hit hard by the virus.

"A lot of that money is now being spent in Indonesia, Vietnam Cambodia, countries in central and eastern Europe, Turkey, Nigeria and Central Asia," he said.

In addition, the World Bank recently signed off on a record-fast $50 million loan for Nigeria to battle bird flu, he said. Bank official Jacques Baudouy said earlier Tuesday that the funding came from money earmarked for the disease prior to the $1.9 billion pledge.

Meanwhile, a U.S. health expert attending a Beijing health conference called for more infectious disease research in Asian countries, and scientists need to more closely track changes in the H5N1 virus to prepare for a potential pandemic.

"I think of it as the earthquake in San Francisco. You know it's on the fault. You know it's going to occur, but you can't tell if it's going to occur this year or next year or the year after," said Dr. Roger Glass, the new director of the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"But it's clearly going to happen and the only way you can prepare is to build your houses with structure," he said on the sidelines of a four-day conference launching the Disease Control Priorities Project, which includes three books focusing on cost-effective strategies for improving global health.

Also Tuesday, regional officials met at a separate symposium to discuss new infectious diseases as a follow-up to talks during last fall's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Bird flu resurfaced in Asia in 2003 and has killed at least 108 people. It remains hard for humans to catch, but health experts fear it will mutate into a form easily spread among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.

06 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Posted by dymaxion at April 5, 2006 09:47 PM

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