UN Health Agency Mounts Joint Bird Flu Mission In China
New York, Nov 25 2005 1:00PM
Following a new confirmed human case of bird flu in China’s south-eastern Anhui province, the United Nations health
agency is joining a mission by the Chinese Health Ministry to investigate exposure to the virus, which in a worst case
scenario could mutate into a human pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people.
This is the third laboratory-confirmed case in China, and the second from Anhui. Two of the cases have been fatal. Since
mid-October, China has reported a recurrence of poultry outbreaks in several parts of the country.
Ever since the first human case of bird flu, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was
reported in January last year, UN health officials have warned that the H5N1 virus could evolve into a global influenza
pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people.
The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people
worldwide. Overall, there have been more than 132 reported human H5N1 cases, 68 of them fatal, all in South-East Asia.
Some 140 million domestic birds have died or been culled in an effort to curb the spread.
Vietnam has registered the largest number of human cases – 93 (42 fatal), followed by Thailand with 21 (13), Indonesia
11 (7), Cambodia 4 (4) and China 3 (2).
WHO official Dick Thompson told a news briefing in Geneva
today concerning some news reports in German newspapers that the agency did not believe China was hiding any human
cases of avian influenza. WHO believed China was notifying the organization as rapidly as it could and was being as
transparent as possible, he said
UN health officials have said a human flu pandemic is inevitable.
“It is only a matter of time before an avian flu virus – most likely H5N1 – acquires the ability to be transmitted from
human to human, sparking the outbreak of human pandemic influenza,” WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook told a conference
of experts earlier this month. “We don't know when this will happen. But we do know that it will happen.”