UN FAO issues warning about avian flu

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently warned that the world risks an outbreak of bird flu unless countries increase global health surveillance efforts to control the disease.

Since 2003, the Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza virus has resulted in the deaths of more than 400 million birds through forced culling or from complications related to the infection. More than $20 billion in economic damage has been recorded. Although it does not easily infect humans, it is often deadly when it does. Approximately 60 percent of those who catch the disease will die.

"The continuing international economic downturn means less money is available for prevention of H5N1 bird flu and other threats of animal origin. This is not only true for international organizations but also countries themselves," FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth said. "Even though everyone knows that prevention is better than cure, I am worried because in the current climate governments are unable to keep up their guard."

Large reservoirs of the disease are believed to exist in Asia and the Middle East. Without effective controls, experts believe another major outbreak is almost inevitable.

"I see inaction in the face of very real threats to the health of animals and people," Lubroth said. "In spite of budget restrictions, countries must invest in preventing the disease to avoid further economic damages."