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WHO Issues New Warning on Possible Flu Pandemic as Human Death Toll Creeps Up 


The World Health Organization is again urging nations to prepare for a possible flu pandemic as officials confirmed the deaths of two more bird flu victims in China, and another two in Turkey.

Health officials in China say two people - a 10-year-old girl in southern China's Guangxi Province and a 35-year-old man in the eastern province of Jiangxi - had earlier died of complications from the H5N1 virus. Two more bird flu deaths were also confirmed Wednesday in Turkey.

In a statement Wednesday, the World Health Organization urged governments to use these early cases as a warning, and to be ready to counterattack against any sign of a pandemic. However, it also warned against undue panic. Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing, said information remains the best weapon.

"The important thing is that there has to be heightened public awareness as to what is and what isn't bird flu," he said. "There has to be a basic understanding as to what the disease is, how it spreads, how it can't spread."

Chinese authorities on Wednesday said they had culled 42,000 quails in the southern province of Guizhou, after discovering that 16,000 of the birds had died of H5N1 there over the past week.

Ministry of Health officials cited new concerns over how effective their vigilance has been. In remarks carried by a state-run newspaper, a ministry spokesman said the rise in human infections had been caused by a lack of surveillance in the countryside, as well as delays in the reporting of outbreaks.

China has come under criticism for being slow to release animal virus samples to the international community. Health experts say obtaining the samples promptly is crucial to monitoring the virus for signs of any mutations.

Thus far, about half of the people who have contracted H5N1 have died.

Most if not all of the 78 worldwide human bird flu deaths since 2003 have been contracted from infected animals. However, scientists are concerned that the virus might mutate to a strain that can easily pass from human to human.

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