‘World must not miss early signals of any flu pandemic’

GENEVA, January 24 (Reuters): The World Health Organization called on all countries on Monday to monitor closely outbreaks of deadly avian influenza in birds and poultry and to report promptly any human cases that could signal the start of a flu pandemic.


Different strains of bird flu have been spreading across Europe and Asia since late last year, leading to large-scale slaughtering of poultry in certain countries and some human deaths in China. Experts fear the virus could mutate to spread more easily among people.


Nearly 40 countries have reported new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry or wild birds since November, according to the WHO.


“The rapidly expanding geographical distribution of these outbreaks and the number of virus strains currently co-circulating have put WHO on high alert,” Margaret Chan told  cy’s executive board.


The world is better prepared for the next influenza pandemic – following the H1N1 “mild” pandemic in 2009-2010 – “but not at all well enough”, she said.


Chan said that under an agreement with drug makers, in return for countries sharing virus samples from which a pandemic vaccine would be derived, WHO is promised 350 million doses of vaccine for distribution.