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WHO Says Seven Million Could Die in Flu Pandemic


The World Health Organization warns between 25 and 35 percent of the world population could be affected by a human influenza pandemic, but the WHO says most people would survive. Health experts are meeting at the World Health Organization in Geneva to map out a plan of action to combat the possible spread of avian flu.

The World Health Organization Global Influenza Program Director Klaus Stohr says between two and seven million people would die from a mild pandemic and up to 28 million would be hospitalized. He adds everything has to be put into perspective.

"The good news is that the majority of people who are going to be ill will get away with it. Staying at home for one week, seeing a doctor yes or no. But, the small fraction which is going to be severely ill will be a challenge to the hospital system, hospital services. And there will be people who are going to die," he said. "The number is not insignificant, two to seven million."

The WHO calculation is based on the prospect of a mild influenza outbreak, such as those which occurred in 1957 and 1968. Those pandemics killed three million people. It acknowledges that deaths could skyrocket in the event of a severe influenza pandemic, such as the one that swept the world in 1918, killing more than 40 million people.

The World Health Organization says more countries are taking the possibility of an influenza pandemic seriously. It says nearly 60 percent of the world's countries now have pandemic influenza programs in place. But, it calls them paper programs and says they must be implemented to be effective.

Last week, the United States released a national strategy of pandemic influenza preparedness. President Bush announced a $7.1 billion budget proposal to support this program.

Bruce Gellen, the Director of the National Vaccine Program Office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the plan is wide-ranging.

"It has the ability to reach into all sectors of society, therefore, engaging all sectors of society," said Mr. Gellen. "You will see in that plan the development of an integrated government-wide response. But, also highlights the importance of the same level of integration at a state and local level, even at a personal family level. And, clearly at the same time at an international level."

Animal and health experts attending the meeting have identified a number of priority areas. These include the need to do more to control the avian flu virus in poultry and to watch what is happening in Africa. The experts note that Africa is in the path of wild, migratory birds which might be infected and could spread the virus to local domestic birds.

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