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UN Body Sets Up Network to Fight Bird Flu in Asia - 2004-07-30

The U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization says it will set up a Southeast Asian network to monitor the deadly bird flu virus. The decision comes at the end of a three-day meeting of veterinary officers and laboratory experts in Bangkok.

Experts and scientists from 10 Asia Pacific nations, along with representatives from the United Nations and the World Health Organization, have agreed to form a network designed to improve surveillance and early detection of the deadly avian flu virus in the region.

Diderik de Vleeschauwer, information officer for the Food and Agricultural Organization says the network will train veterinary officials in poor countries, so they can identify the disease more quickly.

"In principle, we have established minimum standards to which we want to lift up the lower capacity countries as quickly as possible," he said.

The FAO official says the network asks all 10 countries to track bird flu, and share information about it, with the ultimate goal of eradicating the disease.

"The main purpose [of the network] is cooperation, and to harmonize conditions. But it is also information sharing and more transparency for the future," Mr. de Vleeschauwer said.

The lethal H5N1 virus swept across much of the region earlier this year, forcing farmers to kill millions of fowl to stop it.

The virus jumped from birds to people, and at least 24 died, 16 in Vietnam and eight in Thailand.

After a lull of several months, the virus has again emerged in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and China. No humans have been infected in the latest wave.

Scientists worry that if the H5N1 virus is not contained, it may change into a form that can more easily infect humans and cause a global flu pandemic.