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UN Agency to Track Birds to Stem Avian Flu


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is considering a plan to track bird migrations and monitor the spread of bird flu. The decision followed an international scientific conference on avian influenza in Rome. The decision also follows the latest case of a bird flu death in Indonesia.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency says it's considering a plan to monitor the annual migrations of wild birds to better combat the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu.

The project will rely on sensors and communications satellites to track the birds' movements. Details of the FAO's plan were released after an international conference on bird flu held this week in Rome and attended by over 300 scientists from more than 100 countries.

Scientists concluded at the two-day meeting that migrating wild birds have played and will likely continue to play a role in transporting bird flu over long distances. But they could not agree on the exact role played by wild birds in the spread of the virus.

One continent that is of major concern is Africa where FAO's chief of Animal Health Services, Joseph Domenech, says veterinary services are unsatisfactory.

"A few months ago we were convinced that the virus would come to Africa because of wild birds. There is no evidence of that today," he said.

But Domenech expressed concern that in some African countries it can take up to two months until checks on suspected cases are completed by which time the virus can be spreading across the country.

For the time being, scientists agreed that countries should refrain from mass killings of wild birds until further research is carried out.

Bird flu has spread to more than 50 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa, killing more than 120 people worldwide since it began sweeping through poultry stocks in Asia in late 2003.

Indonesia is one country, which has seen a steady rise of human infections and death from bird flu. A seven-year old girl who died this week is the latest to have shown positive for bird flu in local tests.

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