Bird flu still threat, says WHO director

(Sep. 18, 2006) Bird flu remains a threat three years after scientists first raised alarms of a possible human pandemic, says the World Health Organisation's acting regional director.

Dr Richard Nesbit, speaking yesterday on the eve of the WHO's 57th regional committee meeting in Auckland, said as long as the avian flu virus remained in the environment, its threat to human life could not be dismissed.

Avian influenza and non-communicable diseases such as cancer will be among issues discussed when health officials from 27 countries meet at Aotea Centre today for the week-long meeting. Other items on the agenda include the emergence of multidrug resistant tuberculosis, prevention and control of HIV/Aids and the exodus of skilled health workers to wealthier countries.

But bird flu remains an ever-present threat to the region since it reappeared in 2003, spreading to Europe, the Middle East and Africa and leading to the culling of millions of domestic poultry.

With new poultry outbreaks in Cambodia and Thailand and the virus still claiming lives in Indonesia, fears are that the disease will reappear across Asia and elsewhere in the cooler months of the northern hemisphere. "In our view, the risk of a pandemic continues unabated," said Dr Nesbit.

He was, however, encouraged by the progress in planning, citing that the last human case in Vietnam was in November last year. "Scattered outbreaks" in poultry and wild migrating birds were still likely, he said.

"As long as avian influenza is endemic in the environment, there is a risk of a human pandemic."

The outbreak has infected 241 people and killed 141 around the world. Indonesia has had 60 cases and 46 deaths. (from


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