The World Health Organization reports that between December 2003 and August 2005, one-hundred-thirteen laboratory-confirmed cases of avian influenza in humans were found in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Fifty-eight of those cases were fatal. Most of the people contracted the disease from direct contact with infected poultry or poultry droppings. The spread of the virus has required the destruction of millions of chickens and other domestic poultry. The virus is also reported to have killed thousands of migratory birds in western China.
Medical experts warn that if the virus develops the capacity to spread easily from person-to-person, an avian influenza epidemic over a wide region or regions could be set in motion. Such an epidemic is called a pandemic. A human vaccine against avian influenza is not yet available, although researchers in the U.S. and elsewhere are working to develop one.
In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly, President George W. Bush announced the formation of an international partnership on avian influenza that would have "countries that face an outbreak to immediately share information and provide samples to the World Health Organization":
"By requiring transparency, we can respond more rapidly to dangerous outbreaks and stop them on time. Many nations have already joined this partnership. We invite all nations to participate. It's essential that we work together."
Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided more than five-and-a-half-million dollars to pay for medical experts and laboratory facilities to help countries in Southeast Asia deal with avian influenza. "If left unchallenged, this virus could become the first pandemic of the twenty-first century, says Mr. Bush. "We must not allow that to happen."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.