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Avian influenza: situation improving but threat remains, UN expert says

Avian influenza: situation improving but threat remains, UN expert says

Ducks and rice fields may be a critical factor in spreading H5N1
Although some countries are facing continuing and significant outbreaks of bird flu, the situation in the rest of the world is improving because of major efforts by governments around the world, the United Nations System Influenza Coordinator said today.

“The situation is really improving… it doesn’t mean that we can say that the situation globally is completely under control – we have the situation in countries where it is still quite entrenched – but it does mean that in the rest of the world there is a great deal of vigilance and action under way,” David Nabarro told reporters in New York.

Dr. Nabarro cited intensive action by the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom to bring outbreaks under control, as well as financial sector exercises in Australia and the United States to prepare for the impact of potential avian influenza crises. He said that governments had invested massively in improving conditions in which poultry are reared and had increased their focus on the link between animal and human diseases.

There had also been good preparedness work in the travel and tourism sector, as well as progress on updating international health regulations that countries adopt when faced by major health crises.

In addition, Dr. Nabarro welcomed a donation by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur of 60 million H5N1 vaccines which he said added to previous donations from GlaxoSmithKline and would help build a global stockpile of vaccines in case of an avian influenza pandemic.

However, the Influenza Coordinator said that the avian influenza virus was still entrenched in five countries – Viet Nam, Bangladesh, India, Egypt and India – and said that outbreaks had been recorded in more than 60 countries by the end of 2007.

“We remain very concerned about Indonesia, where the disease seems to be concentrated among poultry, particularly in Western Java, and we’re also seeing the largest numbers of human cases,” he said.

“We do feel that it’s prudent to continue to be prepared especially as genetic studies of the current bird flu virus show that it is continuously evolving, even though it hasn’t become capable of sustained transmission among humans,” he stressed.