While bird flu has been successfully checked in Western Europe and much of Southeast Asia apart from Indonesia, it is still expanding in Africa and will remain a threat for years to come, with the number of countries affected doubling to 60 in just the two months from February to April, according to United Nations officials.
“In the majority of cases, wherever HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] has made its appearance we, the global community and the countries concerned have been able to stop it in its tracks,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Deputy Director-General David Harcharik told a high-level meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on the disease in Geneva.
But, he warned at a Council special event on bird flu, “HPAI poses a continuing threat and we must brace ourselves to go on fighting it, quite likely for years.”
Mr Harcharik stressed that it was imperative to act quickly and decisively to stop HPAI wherever it appeared because so long as the H5N1 virus causing it stayed in circulation it would remain a threat to the international community. H5N1 had not so far mutated into a form transmittable from one human being to another, but should it do so, the result could be a pandemic of vast proportions, he said.
There have so far been only 229 confirmed human cases, 131 of them fatal, since the current outbreak started in South East Asia in December 2003, nearly all of them ascribed to contact with infected birds, according to the UN World Health Organisation (WHO).