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New Outbreaks in Asia Remind Experts of Bird Flu Pandemic Possibility

New outbreaks of bird flu are causing concern in Asia. Since the beginning of the year, there have been new bird flu cases in Thailand, Vietnam, and China. Indonesian authorities stepped up a bird eradication plan, while the United Nations in Thailand and health officials in Washington provided testimony about the serious implications of avian flu for humans. Voice of America's Dave DeForest has more.

Indonesian authorities slaughtered thousands of chickens and pet birds in an effort to halt the spread of bird flu that killed five people in the country in two weeks. There are an estimated 350 million backyard chickens in Indonesia.

In Bangkok, officials from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) worry about a spike in bird flu, but the FAO's Laurence Gleeson says the latest outbreak is not as serious as that of 2004. "Where the virus is occurring certainly in mainland southeast Asia, I would say that the outbreaks are under control, in the sense that if they do occur, the resources are there to deal with them."

Avian flu concerns health officials because of its potential for pandemic. In Washington, a Congressional panel heard testimony about bird flu from the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Julie Gerberding. "When we have seasonal flu, the mortality rate is certainly less than three percent. We're talking here about a virus, that when it does affect people, has a mortality rate of greater than fifty percent. So that is, in and of itself, a reason for great concern. But more importantly, people do not have any immunity to the H5(N1) virus. So we have to assume that basically everyone in the world is susceptible."

Bird flu remains hard for humans to catch, but experts fear it may mutate into a more contagious form.