Epidemiologists from 11 Asian countries meet in Bangkok for flu pandemic

Epidemiologists and laboratory experts from 11 Asian countries are meeting in Bangkok this week to fine-tune preparations for a flu pandemic, likely to be caused by bird flu. The World Health Organization is working closely with these countries at the four-day meeting, which opened Monday, to strengthen their health systems and ensure there is coordination between the animal health and human health sectors, WHO officials said.

"In this part of the world in many countries, the public health infrastructure is not as good as ... Thailand or some other countries," said Jay Narain, director of WHO's communicable diseases department for Southeast Asia.

The countries have each drafted pandemic preparedness plans, which address early detection and response. Narain urged cooperation between the agriculture and public health officials.

"We are pushing for multi-sectoral response. If we do an effective poultry outbreak containment, we should be able to prevent infection in human beings," Narain said.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has ravaged poultry farms across Asia and has been transmitted to humans, killing at least 67 people since late 2003. Almost all of them came into close contact with infected birds. Experts fear that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that can easily be passed from human to human, sparking a global flu pandemic. WHO's Southeast Asia regional office includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand, reports the AP. I.L.

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