WHO encouraged by latest bird flu findings

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Maryati, a chicken-seller at Pucang market in Surabaya,Indonesia (file photo). © Brennon Jones/IRIN

UN doctors say they're encouraged that the latest avian flu outbreak hasn't crossed over to humans and think that it could also be cured by readily available drugs.

World Health Organization's Dr Elizabeth Mumford told journalists in Geneva that the H5N8 virus is highly unpredictable.

She explained that the current virus is similar to the H5N1 strain that's caused disease in humans and animals in Asia and Egypt.

But the UN agency doctor said that while very little is known about the virus, initial research indicates that it targets birds rather than humans.

It also shows signs of being sensitive to WHO's first choice drug Tamiflu.

"As we all know influenza viruses are very unpredictable and it's very difficult to tell what a new virus will do…what I can tell you is that there have been no human cases reported even though it's been circulating in poultry for a while in Asia. Of course, we have detection issues if it's causing very mild disease in humans we may not even ever know how many people are infected, but we do know that there is surveillance in humans in these three countries for other influenza sub-types, so the fact that we're not seeing lots of numbers of human cases is encouraging." ("46)

Thevirus was first spotted in Korea, Japan and China and has now been reported in the Netherlands and Germany.  There’s also a suspected outbreak in the United Kingdom which is yet to be confirmed.

The theory is that the virus arrived with migrating birds from Asia rather than through existing trade routes, Dr Mumford said.

Duration: 1"47″


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