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Avian Flu’s Endurance In 5 Countries Poses Global Threat To Human Health, FAO Official Says

Though the world has made “great strides” in eliminating H5N1 (avian flu) from poultry since the “peak of its outbreak in 2006” in 63 countries, the virus persists in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam, VOA News reports (DeCapua, 4/16).

Juan Lubroth, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) chief veterinary officer, said the endurance of avian flu in those five nations poses an ongoing international threat to human health, according to an FAO press release. “The progressive control of H5N1 in such countries remains an international priority … Though public attention shifted to the H1N1 influenza pandemic for most of 2009, H5N1 continues to be a serious menace,” Lubroth said at the opening of the International Ministerial Conference on Animal and Pandemic Influenza in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Monday (4/16).

“As long as [H5N1] is present in even one country, there is still a public health risk to be taken seriously,” he said. Population expansion and greater agricultural production aid “the emergence of new infectious diseases as ever larger numbers of animals and humans occupy delicate ecosystems, he added,” the U.N. News Centre writes (4/16). Lubroth said H5N1 interventions in some areas have been “insufficient” and indicated that while the five countries have differences in their control problems, “we still have to look at some common denominators – production and marketing. So, there are some risk factors that we still have not quite identified. And if we had sufficient amount of funding, we would be able to devote more time in the field to try to identify what are these critical control points and intervene appropriately,” according to VOA News.

“The risk of the H5N1 becoming a human pandemic is real. The more problems that we have at the poultry level, the more the risk is that it will spill over to humans. And if it acquires the ability to have human to human transmission, then we could have a pandemic on our hands,” he said (4/16).

The FAO, the WHO and the World Organization for Animal Health should “take a leading role in finding a definitive solution to the problem, he stressed,” the U.N. News Centre writes. He said, “We must stop hopping from one crisis situation to the next … We have to do a better job of forecasting and monitoring the drivers that promote the emergence and spread of diseases, and institute improved risk management. We must be able to tackle problems at source before they become regional, continental or global threats” (4/16).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.