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Bird flu 'could kill 150m people'

BBC | September 30 2005

A new flu pandemic could happen at any time and kill between 5-150 million people, a UN health official warned.

David Nabarro, who is charged with co-ordinating responses to bird flu, said a mutation of the virus affecting Asia could trigger new outbreaks.

"The consequences in terms of human life when the pandemic does start are going to be extraordinary and very damaging," Dr Nabarro told the BBC.

Bird flu has swept through poultry and wild birds in Asia since 2003.

It has killed huge numbers of birds and led to more than 60 human deaths.

"It's like a combination of global warming and HIV/Aids 10 times faster than it's running at the moment," Dr Nabarro told the BBC.

The UN's new co-ordinator for avian and human influenza said the likelihood that the Asian virus could mutate and jump to humans was high.

Because it has moved to wild migratory birds there is a possibility "that the first outbreak could happen even in Africa or in the Middle East", he warned.

The comments came as agriculture ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) endorsed a three-year plan to combat the spread of the virus, and pledged $2m to fund research and training.

Dr Nabarro stressed he would be working hard to control bird flu through contact with farming communities and markets where birds are sold and looking at the migration of wild birds.

He said the number of deaths from any future influenza pandemic would depend on where it started, how quickly it was discovered and the kind of response they got from governments.

"The range of deaths could be anything between 5m and 150m," said Dr Nabarro.

"I believe that the work we're doing over the next few months will make the difference between, for example, whether the next pandemic leads us in the direction of 150 or in the direction of five. "So our effectiveness will be directly measured in lives saved and the consequences for the world."

The appointment of Dr Nabarro is an indication of how seriously the UN is taking the threat, the BBC's UN correspondent Suzannah Price says.

In his new role, he is meant to ensure that the UN has a co-ordinated response to bird flu and that it helps global efforts to prepare for any human flue pandemic, our correspondent says.

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