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Nations Are Urged to Do More Against Risk of Avian Flu

I’m Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Health Report.

The World Health Organization says avian influenza could become a worldwide threat unless governments act now to stop it. Officials at the United Nations agency warn that bird flu could kill as many as seven million people. They say the number of deaths would depend on the severity of the virus once it entered the general population.

So far, avian influenza has mostly infected people who have been around infected birds and their waste. The W.H.O. said at the end of September that it had reports of sixty deaths. These were among one hundred sixteen confirmed cases since December of two thousand three. The deaths were mostly in Vietnam, but also in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

The virus has also been found in birds in other countries in Asia. Experts say migrating wild birds have helped spread the virus.

Fifteen flu viruses infect birds. Officials are most concerned about the h-five-n-one virus. It could spread easily from person to person if it mixes with human flu virus. That might happen if a person or an animal, such as a pig, becomes infected with both human and avian flu. The body has no defenses against bird flu.

The first cases of h-five-n-one in people were reported in Hong Kong eight years ago. Six people died. Workers quickly killed one and one-half million chickens and other birds to stop the spread of the virus. Millions of farm birds have been destroyed in an effort to halt the current outbreak.

Anti-viral medicine has been used with some success to treat bird flu. Scientists have a vaccine that might protect against the virus. But officials say there is not enough to deal with a major outbreak.

President Bush has called for ways to expand vaccine production. He has also suggested the use of the military to try to contain any possible outbreak in the United States. The State Department last week held an international meeting to discuss the threat from bird flu.

Also last week, scientists in the United States announced that they have remade the so-called Spanish flu virus. An outbreak in nineteen eighteen killed as many as fifty million people worldwide.

The scientists say they found that the Spanish flu came from birds. They hope the recreated virus will help them to better understand what makes the current bird flu so deadly. They also hope to find ways to protect against any big outbreak.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. I’m Shep O'Neal.