Top U.S. health official warns of potential flu pandemic in Vietnam

The United States' top health official said Friday in Hanoi that the warning signs for a potential flu pandemic are appearing, and that countries worldwide must work together to quickly prepare. "What's the probability of (a pandemic) happening again during the next decade?" said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. "We don't know, but the warning signs are clearly troubling, so troubling that no nation on Earth can afford to ignore this."

Vietnam is the last stop on Leavitt's Southeast Asian tour, which also included visits to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

The trip comes a week after officials from 80 countries met in Washington to discuss plans on how to prevent and contain a potential global health threat.

Two of the last three global pandemics, all in the 20th century, originated in Asia.

The Asian flu of 1957-58, first identified in China, and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 each killed more than 1 million people. Neither compared to the Spanish flu of 1918-19, which killed up to 40 million people and sickened an estimated 20 percent to 40 percent of the world's population.

Health experts warn the world is due for the next pandemic and fear that bird flu, which has now reached poultry stocks in Europe, could eventually mutate and become easily passed among people, reports the AP. I.L.

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