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WHO urges sharing of bird flu case samples
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-20 09:37

SHANGHAI: A senior official of the World Health Organization (WHO) urged all countries in the western Pacific region to share samples of poultry and human avian influenza cases for scientific research in order to prevent a possible global pandemic.

"We have urged epidemic countries to share their samples in poultry and human cases, because the virus is always changing, which means timely exchange is quite necessary," said Shigeru Omi, director of the WHO's Regional Office for the Western Pacific.

All member states in the region have actively responded to the WHO's call and vowed to strengthen exchanges and co-operation in the field, said Omi, who is now in Shanghai for the 55th session of the WHO Western Pacific Regional Committee which ends over the weekend.

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, has already wreaked havoc in the region with 39 human cases including 28 fatalities in Viet Nam and Thailand.

Three human cases of avian influenza were reported last month in Viet Nam.

Several new suspected cases have also been reported last week in Thailand and Malaysia.

China reported bird flu among chickens in early July in East China's Anhui Province, but no human cases have been reported.

Research is an important way to tackle the disease, about which much remains unclear, including the nature of the virus and how it is transmitted to humans, Omi said.

Scientists still do not know how the patients in Viet Nam got infected with bird flu as they had no contact with poultry.

Omi warned that the possibility always exists for the virus to spread from region to region, country to country, chickens to humans, and even from humans to humans because the virus is continuing to circulate and people still know little about it.

The WHO regional office has sent an expert group to Viet Nam to investigate the three human cases, said Peter Cordingley, spokesman for Western Pacific Regional office of the WHO.

The WHO still has no plan to establish a new special expert group to tackle the disease or go to other countries for investigations.

Omi stressed that the avian influenza virus might also be carried by other animals, such as dogs and even horses which might also transmit the virus to humans.

"We all know that the effective way to control the virus is to slaughter sick poultry, but we can not kill all the animals which might carry the virus. This means we must strengthen animal husbandry," Omi added.

It is important to get farmers to raise their poultry separately and scientifically, especially in the rural areas of many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Moreover, all countries and people, especially those who have close contact with poultry, must make effective preparations to prevent every possible outbreak of avian influenza.

Authorities must make tireless efforts to strengthen capacity building, such as developing prevention and quick response systems and surveillance and reporting systems, to educate people on how to protect themselves, and to conduct more co-ordination between different departments including agriculture, health and science.

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