Bird Flu :: Bird flu virus still a serious threat, despite improved response

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that although the global response to the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus has significantly improved over the past few years, the virus remains entrenched in several countries and will continue to spread.

According to FAO?s Chief Veterinary Officer, Joseph Domenech, the virus was rapidly detected and eliminated or controlled in some 15 countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East where it was introduced during the past six months.

Speaking at a press conference at the agency?s headquarters in Rome, he said most affected countries have been very open about new outbreaks. ?This shows that countries are taking the H5N1 threat seriously. They are better prepared today and have improved their response systems.?

At the same time, Mr. Domenech stressed there was no room for complacency, and said a potential human influenza pandemic could not be ruled out as long as the virus continued to exist in poultry.

Recent H5N1 outbreaks in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, Czech Republic and Germany are a clear reminder that the virus is spreading to new or previously infected countries, he said, adding that the situations in Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria are particularly serious.

FAO says containing and eradicating the virus will require a long-term financial and political commitment from Governments, including modifying or changing high risk poultry production and marketing practices to ensure safer supply.

?Even if bird flu has disappeared from our TV screens, it doesn?t mean that the risk is over,? Mr. Domenech stated. ?Avian influenza is not a one-time event, the international community will have to live with the disease for several years to come.?

To date, 315 people from a dozen countries have been infected with the virus, resulting in 191 deaths. More than 200 million birds have died from either the virus or preventive culling in the current outbreak.