Bird flu to remain major threat for next decade: UN

CAIRO - Avian influenza is likely to remain a significant global threat for animals and humans for the next decade, top UN coordinator David Nabarro said on Thursday.

“The virus is likely to be with us for the five or ten years to come,” he told AFP in an interview.

According to the UN’s health agency, the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus has been confirmed in 256 humans worldwide since the first outbreak in 2003. It was lethal in at least 152 cases.

Nabarro, who was tasked last year by the world body with containing the crisis, warned that the international community had to remain on high alert for the possible mutation of the virus into one communicable between humans.

“The risk of a mutation to cause pandemic is still very much there,” he said. “As long as the virus is present in birds, there will also be a threat of sporadic human infection, and a possibility of a mutation which would cause at the end of the day a pandemic.”

“Trying to estimate the potential mortality of a pandemic is very hard. What I’ve already said is that you could have of range of between five and 150 million” deaths, said Nabarro.

“It’s the reason why I do think we a have to put now plenty of energy towards a long term reform of the poultry farming techniques, in order to reduce the risks of human infection.”

Nabarro said frequent occurrences of sporadic human infections meant the virus would not be eliminated for some time, but he voiced his hope that efforts deployed to combat the virus in recent months would have increased preparedness for a pandemic.

“The difference now is that countries all over the world are much more geared up to deal with this phenomenon than they were a year ago. It gives me some hope that when the virus appears in a new country, it can be controlled,” he said.

On a recent visit to Cairo to attend a global health research forum, Nabarro praised the Egyptian authorities’ performance in handling the bird flu outbreak.

With seven lethal human cases in less than a year, Egypt is the hardest-hit non-Asian country. (AFP)


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