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Countries under–reporting bird flu



Wednesday 31st May, 2006   Posted: 16:37 CIT   (21:37 GMT)
Sumatra, Indonesia

A chicken is displayed at a poultry market while an Indonesian vendor sits at waits for customers in Medan, north Sumatra, Indonesia, on Tuesday, May 30, 2006. Preliminary tests have found that bird flu has killed another person in Indonesia, as the country struggles to get a grip on a spike in cases, a local health official said Wednesday. Photo: AP

ROME (AP) – Outbreaks of the deadly strain of bird flu may be underreported in Indonesia and China, and the virus could be more widespread in Africa than authorities know, said experts gathered Wednesday for a conference on the disease.

Poor monitoring and lack of compensation mechanisms that encourage farmers to report animal deaths meant that authorities were not always aware of all outbreaks of the H5N1 virus, animal health experts told reporters on the sidelines of the two–day conference in Rome.

The conference – organized by the Rome–based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health – brought more than 300 scientists and animal experts from 100 countries together in hopes of finding ways to control the spread of the disease and to prepare in case it mutates into a virus that could threaten a human pandemic.

"We think that countries might be underreporting," said Christianne Bruschke, head of the bird flu task force at the Paris–based World Organization for Animal Health. "Most of the countries really see how serious the situation is ... but they do not know about all outbreaks in their country."

The vast areas that need to be monitored are a difficult test for countries like China and Indonesia, where veterinary services are already stretched to the limit, Bruschke said.

Slow detection of the virus coupled with lack of compensation mechanisms for farmers whose poultry are culled could mean the virus may have spread across Africa to more than the eight countries that have so far reported outbreaks, she said.

"In developing countries, where farmers will lose their livelihood, they will make the best economic decision for them. If there is no compensation they will eat or sell the animals."

Bird flu has killed at least 127 people worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. Most human victims were infected through direct contact with sick birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans, and spark a pandemic.

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