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Asia Must Implement Measures to Contain Bird Flu, Warns WHO - 2004-02-20


Scientists from Asia and the United States have been meeting in Bangkok to examine the latest techniques for detecting the deadly bird flu virus - which may prove crucial in containing the spread of the disease.

World Health Organization experts warned at the Bangkok conference Friday that Asian countries must carefully implement measures to contain the H5N1 avian virus.

In an unprecedented outbreak, the virus has killed at least 22 people in Thailand and Vietnam, and has decimated Asia's poultry flocks.

The workshop, organized by the United Nations and the U.S. and Thai governments, brought together scientists and doctors from all over Asia, to get hands-on experience in testing for the virus. Mark Simmerman is director of operations in Thailand for the International Emerging Infections Program - a part of the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. He says the workshop aimed to help countries identify and track the disease. The WHO and the CDC had experts on hand to find out just how they can help Asia's doctors.

"We just has a wrap-up session where … (we) talked about issues that were important to both sides and how to collaborate better and also between countries and got some specific suggestions from the various countries on what would make their jobs better," he said.

About 30 people so far have been infected with the bird flu, and all are thought to have caught it from sick poultry. However, health experts worry the longer the virus is around, the more chance it will have to mix with the human influenza virus and become a threat greater to people. On Friday, Thai officials said three pet cats have died of bird flu and a white tiger at a zoo has been infected. Health experts worry about this because if the virus infects other animals, particularly pigs, which are genetically similar to humans, it may develop the ability to spread easily among people. With this in mind, Mr. Simmerman says, developing a human vaccine to guard against a potential pandemic is of utmost importance. He says scientists around the world are already working on a vaccine in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

"The work's underway and the process right now is to collect as many virus samples as we can from the field from human cases and also from birds and learn as much as we can about the virus so they can begin to develop an effective vaccine for it," he said.

Bird flu viruses have been found in 10 Asian nations. The United States and Canada also have reported that a milder form of bird flu has been found in poultry flocks in some areas.