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Western Countries, UN Agree to Form Bird Flu Crisis Group

Animal health experts from the United States, European Union and UN agencies have agreed on the creation of a new crisis and coordinating center to combat the bird flu virus. A top U.S. Agriculture Department official who attended the Rome meeting said not enough has been done to help affected countries.

As bird flu continues to spread in Europe and new cases of the virus are being reported in cats, animal health experts from the United States, European Union and U.N. agencies are meeting in Rome to discuss urgent new measures.

Ron DeHaven of the U.S. Agriculture Department said agreement has been reached on the need for a new global crisis and coordinating center based at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

"The avian influenza virus that we are currently dealing with, this H5N1 virus, creates some unique needs that haven't before been addressed," he said. "We have a virus that is now marching across the globe and really requires that there be not just an individual country strategy for all of the affected countries but some way of globally coordinating that whole effort."

So far, the virus has spread mainly among birds. But recently the virus has been detected in cats both in Austria and Germany. Experts fear that the virus will mutate and become easily transmitted to humans.

Ron De Haven says not enough has been done to help affected countries attack the H5N1 virus in birds.

"The best thing that can be done to reduce the potential for this to become a pandemic virus is to attack the virus at its source, in birds, and that means doing a better job of assisting affected countries in attacking the virus at its source," he said. "And by reducing the virus load in birds we reduce the potential for the virus to mutate and become the pandemic virus we are so concerned about."

DeHaven said that within two weeks a draft document outlining how the new coordination strategy will work should be ready. He said under the new plan, FAO would send experts on animal health to countries where they are most needed to help local officials decide what measures to take, such as culling or vaccination of poultry.

He said the aim would not be to assume the eradication or control effort in a country, but rather help that country with the necessary resources and expertise for them to help themselves.

Financial aid is expected to come from the $1.9 billion pledged at a Beijing donors' conference in January.