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Concern Steadily Increasing Over Possible Bird Flu Pandemic

Scientists and virologists are calling for more supplies and medicines to fight the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, due to fatalities from the disease nearly tripling this year.

In the first half of 2005, around 20 bird-flu-related fatalities were reported in Vietnam and Cambodia. Since January of this year, nearly 60 people have died from the virus.

U.K.-based University of Reading's professor of virology Ian Jones said, "The situation worldwide remains as serious as ever. Screening and preventative measures are as appropriate as ever.'' According to numbers confirmed by the World Health Organization, 130 of the total 228 people infected with bird flu have died.

Albert Osterhaus' Department of Virology at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands was the first laboratory to identify human cases of H5N1 infection, and he will co-chair the opening session of the International Conference on Avian Influenza in Humans in Paris tomorrow. More than 200 health experts, policy makers, researchers and drug makers are expected to attend and discus the latest strategies and technologies for dealing with the bird flu and a possible pandemic.

"We have seen three major pandemics in the last century,'' Osterhaus said, recalling the Spanish Flu of 1918, which caused the death of approximately 1 to 2 percent of the world's population. "If the threat is there, we should be prepared."

The rise in bird flu cases "continues to reflect the underlying virus pressure in both domestic and, to some degree, wild birds,'' says Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "We're trying to explain it as if we've already done the bench work and can tell you what's going to happen. That's just not the case.''