UN health agency gathers data on new human bird flu cases in Viet Nam

8 March 2005

With Viet Nam confirming four more human cases of bird flu, the United Nations health agency is gathering as much data as possible on each new case in efforts to pre-empt a human pandemic that in a worst case scenario could claim tens of millions of lives worldwide.

“Such data are urgently needed at a time when many countries are intensifying their pandemic preparedness activities,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said of the disease, which has so far infected more than 50 people in the past year, mainly in Viet Nam and Thailand, killing over three dozen of them and leading to the deaths or culling of nearly 140 million birds.

The four new cases, one of them fatal, developed in the latter half of February, and WHO continues to work closely with the Vietnamese Ministry of Health to further investigate additional cases which may have occurred since 2 February.

The agency has repeatedly warned that the bird flu virus, H5N1, could mutate into a new human virus with pandemic potential. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20, which was not related to the present virus, is estimated to have killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide.