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World Health Organization Says Bird-Flu Spread 'Unprecedented'

Dead wild birds on a dissection table at a German pathology lab (epa) March 6, 2006 -- The World Health Organization said today it is seeking ways to curb the spread of bird flu and called the outbreak in poultry around the world "historically unprecedented."

Margaret Chan, who is heading a team of health officials searching for ways to prevent bird flu from infecting humans, told a meeting of experts that in Asia alone more than 160 million poultry have been killed by the disease or culled to prevent its spread.

Chan noted that so far the disease has not mutated into a form that can easily infect humans, but she cautioned that 174 people had caught bird flu and 94 had died.

"We want to make sure that full exploitation of all opportunities is fully taken advantage of to prevent the H5N1 virus from developing the ability to ignite a pandemic," Chan said. "And should this effort fail, we want to ensure that measures are in place to mitigate high levels of morbidity, mortality, and social and economic disruption."

"The New York Times" today cited Vittorio Guberti, the head veterinarian at the Italian National Institute for Wildlife, as saying health officials still knew "next to nothing about this virus."

(AP, "The New York Times")

Interview With UN FAO's Erwin Northoff

Interview With UN FAO's Erwin Northoff

An expert at the National Virology Laboratory of the Kyrgyz Health Ministry (courtesy photo)

GETTING READY: Many have expressed concern about the ability of Central Asian countries to come to grips with a possible bird-flu outbreak. RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Muhammad Tahir spoke with Erwin Northoff, news coordinator for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about the issue. ....(more)