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New bird flu outbreak in China reined in
(AFP/China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-26 05:41

Scientists fear the current H5N1 strain may mutate, acquiring genes from the human influenza virus that would make it highly infectious as well as lethal -- possibly killing millions worldwide.

Health ministers and experts from 30 countries are meeting in Canada's capital Ottawa to forge a coordinated international effort against the virus, aiming to advance global preparations for a flu pandemic.

Several countries have already announced plans to build stocks of antiviral drugs and vaccines to combat the threat. Governments also have destroyed some 140 million birds wherever the virus has been found.

"All of these measures are good, but they are only the second line of defense," FAO head Jacques Diouf told AFP. "The real battleground is on the animal front."

The Asian Development Bank warned Tuesday that a severe outbreak of avian influenza could cost the Asia-Pacific region alone between 250 billion and 290 billion dollars.

According to its preliminary estimates, the Manila-based bank believes that even a relatively mild pandemic could cost the region around 90-110 billion dollars due to the effects of reduced consumption, investment and trade.

The bank said the various stages of a growing human pandemic would have widespread and serious implications for economic development and the welfare of people in the region and beyond, with health systems overwhelmed.

After its emergence in Asia in 2003, the H5N1 strain finally jumped to Europe this month with outbreaks reported in Turkey, Romania and Russia's south Urals region of Chelyabinsk.

By the end of last week, a South American parrot died in quarantine in Britain of the deadly strain. Bird flu -- but not the H5N1 strain -- was confirmed in dead birds in Croatia and Sweden.

Authorities in Britain are exploring a possible Taiwanese link because the parrot, which arrived in the country on September 16, had been exposed to other birds from Taiwan while in mandatory quarantine.

But Taipei has not reported any domestic cases of the disease and it called the comments by the British authorities "irresponsible".

Nevertheless, Taiwan Tuesday staged emergency drills of environmental protection officials and street cleaners on how to handle suspect chickens.

In response to the British case, the European Commission said it will call for a complete ban on wild bird imports, as it races to erect barriers against the disease.
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