Asia needs international support to prevent bird flu pandemic

The deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus has affected humans in 10 countries, despite the culling of some 200 million chickens worldwide.

The World Health Organization has warned of global chaos if the virus mutates into a form that spreads easily among humans. Most human cases have been linked to direct contact with infected birds.

The WHO has recorded 232 human cases of the H5N1 virus worldwide, and 134 people have died of the disease. The latest death occurred in Thailand this week.

International health organizations estimate that more than US$880 million ( Ђ 690 million) is needed to ensure all countries are reasonably prepared for a pandemic, but only about a third of that has been collected, said Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, the AP reports.

Participants at the conference said governments needed to educate citizens to improve hygiene, especially to get people into the habit of washing their hands with soap rather than just water.

If poultry traders process their poultry hygienically and people improve their personal hygiene, then "half the battle is won," Ramadoss said.