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China Warned to Remain Alert for Bird Flu

A leading US molecular biologist said on Tuesday that China should be extremely cautious and prepare to deal with a possible avian influenza pandemic.

"If all goes wrong, the influenza disease of the H5N1 avian virus that has spread extensively in south Asia could start a pandemic in China," said David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City and inventor of the AIDS "cocktail" treatment. Ho was speaking at the Nature China Voices Forum held on Tuesday in the southern city of Shenzhen.

"The next pandemic is inevitable. In fact, it is overdue," said Ho. "China should plan for the epidemic that is coming."

A detailed preparatory plan for major microbial threats is needed to provide ample supplies of vaccines and professionals to treat the disease. Alert systems must be improved.

The Ministry of Health announced on Monday that China will establish several monitoring centers in rural areas to fight bird flu this year.

The centers will be set up to augment a national influenza-monitoring network that covers all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the mainland.

The rural centers will be used for flu strain detection and monitoring, as well as for specimen collection, testing and analysis.

Bird flu, or avian influenza, was reported in 16 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in China earlier this year, as well as several other countries in Asia.

The deadly H5N1 virus also infected a number of humans in Vietnam and Thailand, leading to the deaths of 32.

The outbreaks of the disease have led to the culling of tens of millions of chickens and other birds.

(China Daily November 24, 2004)

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