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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 12:42 GMT
Action urged to combat bird flu
Vietnamese woman carrying ducks
Experts believe it is still possible to prevent a bird flu pandemic
Health officials have urged governments to do more to fight a bird flu outbreak that could affect people.

UN experts at a conference in Vietnam said there was still time to prevent the virus from spreading to humans.

But one UN official called the response from donors and governments so far "glaringly insufficient".

He said the international community needed to spend at least $100m (52m) to fight the virus - five times more than the sum donated last year.

"I see an alarming lack of commitment from donors and affected governments," said Dr Samuel Jutzi from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"I perceive a lack of political will in supporting efforts to reduce the risk," he added.

He went on to say that the $100m would simply improve monitoring procedures and veterinary services, but would not cover the costs of compensating farmers for their financial losses.

Increased danger

In recent weeks, the virus has been detected in mammals that had ever been affected before, such as tigers, lions and cats.

This has sparked fears that the virus might be becoming resistant to treatments and therefore more dangerous.

Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong, 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Isolated cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong and Vietnam, but none confirmed

World Health Organization (WHO) believe that the longer the virus persists, circulating in animals, the higher the risk it might mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans.

John Oxford, a professor of virology at Queen Mary's School of Medicine in London, said pandemic plans drawn up by 15 countries so far were not enough.

"We need to... gather together all the scientific power that's been discovered over the last 40 years - new vaccines and new anti-viral drugs - stack them all up and get them all ready for this expected outbreak," he said.

"Then, I think, we can rest more easily in out beds."

Professor Julius Weinberg, who heads the Institute of Health Sciences at London's City University called for "more investment in vaccine research for rapid virus development".

Bird flu has been found in eight Asian countries since 2003, and a few cases of human-to-human transmission have already been recorded.

Vietnam has had the highest death toll, with 33 victims. Twelve more people have died in Thailand.

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