WHO says H5N1 threat persists

Mar 25, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Newly confirmed human cases of H5N1 avian influenza, along with several outbreaks in poultry, are a reminder that the virus still poses a global threat, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday.

So far this year the WHO has received 21 reports of human cases, seven of them fatal. Sixteen of the cases and five of the deaths were in Egypt. Vietnam and Indonesia have also reported infections and deaths. Poultry outbreaks have been reported by eight countries, many of which also reported human cases.

The WHO's warning came a day after another global group raised similar concerns. On Mar 23 an international avian influenza task force issued a statement expressing concern about waning interest and effort of governments and the public over the still-persistent H5N1 virus. The group aired its concerns at the end of a meeting at United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome.

The WHO said the virus is not only an immediate risk to those who handle birds, it could also reassort with another flu virus. Dr Takeshi Kasai, adviser for communicable disease surveillance and response in the WHO's Western Pacific office, emphasized in the statement that the influenza virus is unpredictable.

"In areas where H5N1 is endemic," he said, "WHO and its partners are working to build surveillance systems to identify changes in the behavior of the virus, raising awareness about the risks and protective measures, and building skills and capacity to respond to outbreaks quickly."

In a related development, animal health officials in Nepal reported H5N1 outbreaks at four locations in Banke district, in the western part of the country, the Himalayan Times reported yesterday. Authorities sent samples to Kathmandu for lab testing after a large number of birds died in the area. Rapid response teams were scheduled to begin culling operations today.

Nepal also reported an outbreak in late January that struck birds in Gandaki district, in the central part of the country, according to a report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

See also:

Mar 24 WHO statement

Mar 23 FAO article

Feb 5 OIE report

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