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Asian Countries Battling Bird Flu Consider Monitoring Network - 2004-01-28


Asian governments battling an epidemic of bird flu among their chicken flocks are considering creating a regional network to monitor livestock health. The announcement came at the end of an emergency ministerial meeting in Thailand aimed at containing the spreading virus, which has killed 10 people in Thailand and Vietnam.

Thailand's Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai says the proposed veterinary surveillance network would provide an early warning system for possible region-wide epidemics.

"Our individual efforts must be reinforced by effective regional and international cooperation in view of the magnitude of the challenge," said Mr. Surakiart. "Our ultimate objective being the restoration of confidence among all the parties concerned."

The Thai foreign minister said delegates at Wednesday's meeting also agreed to expand regional cooperation, including joint research into animal and human health, and the development of low-cost test kits, vaccinations and anti-viral drugs.

The meeting in Bangkok comes amid a rapidly spreading epidemic of bird flu. The disease has killed millions of chickens, and forced governments to cull millions more, causing severe hardship to the poultry industry.

The disease so far has only infected a few humans who have come into contact with sick birds, but experts fear that the virus could change and begin moving from person to person.

They say this would be more devastating than last year's outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed nearly 800 people, most of them in Asia. SARS was caused by a virus that may have spread from wild animals.

Nevertheless, the delegates decided that because there is no human to human transmission as yet, there is no need for travel warnings like those imposed during the SARS outbreak. Last year's warnings caused Asia's huge tourism industry to nearly collapse, causing severe economic pain.

The regional representative of the World Health Organization, Shigeru Omi, told reporters that the best way to prevent the bird flu virus from becoming a danger to humans is to remove the chickens, ducks, geese and other fowl that allow it to spread.

"The most important thing is to remove this animal reservoir so there is no contact between humans and the infected poultry," said the WHO official.

Wednesday's meeting included the 10 Asian countries with confirmed bird flu outbreaks, as well as Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States and European Union. Experts from several international organizations also attended.

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