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Monday, October 10, 2005

Health Secretary to Emphasize Urgency of Avian Flu in Asia - New York Times

Health Secretary to Emphasize Urgency of Avian Flu in Asia - New York TimesOctober 10, 2005
Health Secretary to Emphasize Urgency of Avian Flu in Asia
International Herald Tribune

BANGKOK, Oct. 10 - The United States health and human services secretary, Michael O. Leavitt, began a four-nation tour of Southeast Asia today with a message of urgency in preparing for a possible pandemic of avian influenza.

"We in the United States do not have the capacity to manufacture vaccines for our own population," he said, urging regional leaders to increase their capacities for making antiviral vaccines.

"Most natural disasters have a geographic confinement to them," he said. "Most have a relatively short time period which they are active. An influenza pandemic could geographically expand in unlimited numbers of locations and sometimes grow as long as a year or a year and a half."

Mr. Leavitt said the goal of his trip was to increase international cooperation as the best defense against an outbreak.

"For all of us, the best defense is containment, to find it and find it soon and then work as an international community to contain it," he said. "That requires all of us to act in a way that is both transparent and cooperative."

His trip in the region, where 60 people reportedly have died of avian flu, began here in Thailand, where he said preparedness and cooperation were already at a high level. More than 40 million chickens and ducks have been killed in Thailand over the past two years and 12 human deaths have been confirmed.

Mr. Leavitt plans to travel to Laos and Cambodia, where the levels of public health and awareness are low relative to Thailand and where preventive action is hindered by lack of money and organization. Finally, he is scheduled to travel to Vietnam, where the World Health Organization has recorded 91 cases of avian flu, including 41 that have resulted in death. The secretary said he would make a separate trip to Indonesia, where the flu appears to be spreading rapidly and where the most recent four fatalities have been recorded.

The organization's director general, Jong Woo Lee, who is traveling with Mr. Leavitt, said the recent appearance of infected birds in Russia and Central Asia amounted to a worldwide warning. There were also reports of outbreaks in Turkey and Romania over the weekend.

"The burning question is, will there be a human influenza pandemic," Mr. Leavitt said. "On behalf of the W.H.O., I can tell you that there will be. The only question is the virulence and rapidity of transmission from human to human."

The health organization has warned that a possible pandemic of avian influenza could kill as many as 7.4 million people. It has urged nations in the region to draw up preparedness plans and stockpile antiviral drugs that could be effective against an emerging strain.

"At present, there is no convincing evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus," the organization said in a statement. "However, there have been incidents, in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, where limited transmission between humans was suspected."

Mr. Leavitt met with Thai government officials, nongovernmental groups and officials from the health organization. "Three times in this century we have experienced pandemic influenza and they will come again," he said. "We must be ready."

He added, "Our preparations are not yet complete nor are they adequate."


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    A Cassville Heritage Association member, Cassville, Georgia

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    Johnny Reb

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    SCV member