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UN official stresses need for preparedness for potential flu pandemic

UN official stresses need for preparedness for potential flu pandemic

Warning that the H5N1 virus responsible for bird flu could still transform itself into the next human influenza pandemic, a senior United Nations specialist has stressed the need to ensure that the world can respond promptly and effectively in the case of an outbreak.

“Given the potential magnitude of human suffering and economic consequences, we need to be getting ourselves prepared for it,” the UN’s System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, David Nabarro, told reporters in Geneva today.

Providing an update on avian and human influenza, he noted that, as of the end of August, the H5N1 virus had spread to 60 countries, resulting in 200 deaths.

Dr. Nabarro said the virus was entrenched in five countries, one of which was Indonesia, where there was evidence of continued circulation of H5N1 among poultry and occasional infections of humans with the virus.

“As long as this virus is being circulated, even if it’s only in one or two countries, that raises the risk that a pandemic can develop,” he cautioned.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is currently working with national authorities to develop rapid response plans and ensure adequate supplies of the anti-viral flu medicine tamiflu.

According to WHO, the projected supply of influenza vaccines in case of a global pandemic has soared this year, and it is expected that the world will be capable of producing 4.5 billion pandemic immunization courses per year by 2010.

This compares to the 100 million courses of vaccine based on the H5N1 strain that WHO and vaccine manufacturers earlier this year projected could be produced immediately with standard technology.

“We are not yet at a situation where this H5N1 has mutated into a form that could undergo continuous human-to-human transmission,” Dr. Nabarro said, adding that “as long as we don’t have a pandemic, what we do need to do is get prepared.”