70 nations in fresh commitment on H5N1

A meeting in Vietnam has seen ministers from 70 countries reaffirm their commitment to battling H5N1 avian influenza into the future.

The Hanoi Declaration proposes increased communication between professionals and the public, strengthened public health and veterinary systems as well as improved international and regional cooperation.

David Nabarro, the UN’s senior coordinator for avian and pandemic flu, told the Reuters news agency increased biosecurity was the key so as to avoid mid-size traders acting as avian flu transmission hubs.

Bird flu outbreaks have generally been dealt with by culling birds, but health authorities were now trying to look further up the supply chain, Mr Nabarro said.

Since 2003 the H5N1 strain of bird flu has infected a confirmed 493 people and killed 292, or nearly 60%. Most of the deaths have been in Asia. Almost all of these infections were believed to have taken place directly from birds to humans, but health experts fear it could mutate to a form that could be easily transmitted human-to-human, sparking a global pandemic.

“We are finding that if we have a much clearer understanding of the patterns of movement of the virus, and in particular build-up points, we can then do much more sophisticated control strategies that have less economic damage for poorer people and more impact,” Mr Nabarro told Reuters.

“It’s the medium-sized commercial poultry traders who have yet to introduce good quality biosecurity that are the ones on whom we are focusing most of our attention these days.”

There have been two sizeable clusters of human deaths from the disease so far – one in which eight family members died on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in 2006 and another in Turkey in which eight people were infected and four died.

In the Sumatra case, the virus went on for two generations and then stopped – a 37-year-old woman was believed to have infected her 10-year-old nephew, who went on to infect his father.

Another smaller probable case of human-to-human transmission occurred in Thailand in 2004, where a mother died after tending to her sick daughter for hours.

The conference in Hanoi brought together hundreds of officials from around the world.

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