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Asia Remains Alert for Swine Flu Outbreak

International health officials have called for Asia to remain vigilant to possible swine flu outbreaks, despite signs the virus may be less deadly than initially feared. Health officials from 13 Asian nations, including Japan, China and South Korea, discussed the issue at a meeting in Bangkok.

The World Health Organization says more than 2,000 people have been infected by the swine influenza A H1N1 virus. Asia has been spared a major outbreak of the flu virus that has spread from Mexico.

A two-day meeting in the Thai capital, Bangkok, brought together health ministers and officials from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, along with China, Japan and South Korea to map out a strategy of cooperation should the virus appear in the region.

UN confident Asia can cope with potential outbreak

U.N. influenza coordination team chief David Nabaro says he is confident Asia will cope with a potential flu outbreak. Asia, he said, had benefited from the 2003 experience when the region was struck by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS.

"Asia, is one of the best prepared, indeed, on pandemic preparedness in the world; particularly on multi-sector pandemic preparedness," Nabaro said. "And I am confident that the world - particularly Asia is now much better prepared that we were five years ago for a possible pandemic."

Health officials say there are signs the current strain of flu virus may be less lethal than earlier feared.

Speaking by way of video link, U.S. Deputy Director for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Anne Schuchat said almost 60 percent of the people infected are under 18 years old. She said most cases do not require hospital care.

"Our assessment is that we have an important, serious problem that is continuing but with this additional data feel that the severity of the disease is not as grave as what was originally reported from our colleagues in Mexico," Schuchat said.

She said the virus appeared "more typical of the seasonal influenza strains" with cases ranging from "mild to very severe".

WHO: region must remain alert

But despite grounds for optimism, WHO Assistant Director Keiji Fukuda said the region needs to remain alert.

"Clearly the spectrum of illness appears to be milder," Fukuda said. "(But) I do want to put a cautionary note out there that the situation ... we do not believe that we have a fully good handle on the potential severity of this phenomenon."

Friday, the Asian health ministers are expected to agree on proposals for greater cooperation, ensuring adequate medical supplies, cross border assistance, and steps to limit the wider economic impact from any flu outbreak.