Scientists from around Asia have gathered in Bangkok to share information on controlling the spread of bird flu in humans. The virus has killed 22 people in Asia, and decimated the region's poultry flocks. The two-day meeting in Thailand is intended to better arm Asia's health care professionals in the fight against the bird flu.
Mark Simmerman is the director of operations in Thailand for the International Emerging Infections Program, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control in the United States.
He says experts from the United States, Hong Kong and other areas have come to teach health care workers from 14 countries how to detect and contain the virus.
"The specifics of our course are to facilitate the individual countries, many of whom have very limited capacity in terms of laboratory and epidemiology, to help improve that, and discuss the issues at hand, and help them work out some of the problems that they're facing in their own countries," he explained.
The workshop is being held as nations in the region are struggling to contain an unprecedented outbreak of the H5N1 avian virus. The Bangkok conference is sponsored by the Thai government, the U.S. government, and the United Nations. More than 80 million chickens and other fowl have been culled in the region to stop the spread of the bird flu viruses, which have reached 10 Asian nations. The United States also has reported a mild form of bird flu in several areas.
Thailand and Vietnam are the only countries to report human H5N1 infections, and all of the patients apparently contracted it from sick birds. At least 22 patients have died of the virus.
Although only a few dozen people have contracted the H5N1 virus, there are fears that it could change to more easily infect humans, and set off a worldwide epidemic.
"That is one of the reasons why there is a lot of public health concern about this - the notion that this virus could well become easily transmissible in humans, and cause a pandemic. That is of overriding concern," he stressed.
The World Health Organization says the disease is still spreading among birds, and is not under control, despite the best efforts of affected nations. The WHO says it could take years to eradicate the virus in Asia.