Bird flu spread 'raises chance of pandemic through human strain'

THE spread of bird flu from Asia to eastern Europe and west Africa has increased the chance that the virus will mutate and cause a pandemic among humans, the United Nations' expert on the disease has warned.

Dr David Nabarro said there was no evidence yet of any change in the bird flu virus.

He said: "Unfortunately, we cannot tell when the mutation might happen, or where it might happen, or how unpleasant the mutant virus will turn out to be.

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"Nevertheless, we must remain on high alert for the possibility of sustained human-to-human virus transmission and of a pandemic starting at any time."

Nabarro said the arrival of bird flu in Nigeria should be "a strong wake-up call" to countries to ensure their veterinary services were on alert, and that health services quickly identified unexpected clusters of disease that could represent the start of a pandemic.

"We have got bird flu now in south-east Asia, central Asia, eastern Europe, and west Africa," he said. "Compared with eight months ago, this is a major extension of the avian influenza epidemic."

Nabarro said control measures had helped to contain the spread but bird flu was still expanding across the world, "putting at risk the health of people who are living intimately with poultry".