The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has dispatched a team of scientists to Asia to help public health officials throughout the region contain an outbreak of avian flu. The move comes as scientists work quickly to try to develop a vaccine against the viral illness that has claimed the lives of eight individuals, mostly children.
Six CDC officials have been sent to Vietnam where there have been seven confirmed cases of avian influenza. Another three cases of avian flu have been positively identified in Thailand.
Officials say the illness so far only appears to be carried by chickens and does not transmit easily to humans. But U.S. Centers for Disease Control director Julie Gerberding said that could change. "We know from situations involving avian influenza strains that occasionally person to person transmission may occur, and these viruses are prone to evolve over time. So there's always the possibility that transmission could become more efficient," she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gerberding says there's no confirmation of reports Tuesday that the avian flu has been detected in China. She says it might be hard to detect cases of the disease in rural areas because of the lack of medical personnel.
Dr. Gerberding says the United States is in the process of developing testing kits to be sent to Asia, and U.S. scientists are working to develop a vaccine to protect people against becoming infected with the virus.
As for those who are already sick, Dr. Gerberding says one anti-viral drug that killed a previous avian flu strain appears to work against the current influenza virus.
So far, there are no reports the avian flu has spread outside of Asia to the United States. Should that happen, the CDC director Julie Gerberding says strict containment measures are in place so the disease does not become an epidemic.