British experts to travel to Southeast Asia to analyze bird flu pandemic

British scientists will travel to Asia to investigate ways to handle bird flu, Britain's Medical Research Council said Monday. Infection experts from the research council will visit China, Vietnam and Hong Kong and present their findings on handling emerging infections at an international conference in London in December.

Bird flu has devastated poultry stocks across Asia and killed 61 people in the region since late 2003. The recent discovery of the same strain of bird flu in Romania and Turkey has sparked concern in Europe that the virus could spread and mutate into a form that spreads easily between humans.

The British government's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has warned that a bird flu-sparked human flu pandemic could kill 50,000 people in Britain, but he said it was not likely to happen this winter.

Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, which is considered a pre-eminent authority on flu pandemics, said international coordination was essential to combat the spread of bird flu.

"It is very important that viruses should be identified as quickly as possible as new strains emerge," Blakemore told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Blakemore said experts could not be sure that Tamiflu tablets, which are considered the best current defense against the virus, would be effective in the case of a human pandemic, reports the AP. I.L.

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