Avian flu continues to spread. Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Romania, Russia, and Slovenia have now reported cases of the disease, which is carried by infected birds. Avian flu has also been found recently in Nigeria and Iran.
The first outbreak was reported in China in late 2003. From there, the virus spread to Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam and Turkey. The United Nations World Health Organization says that, worldwide, there have been more than one-hundred-sixty cases of humans contracting the disease from contact with infected poultry or other types of birds.
Medical experts say the bird flu virus could mutate into a form that could be transmitted from person to person. Since people would have no immunity to this new flu virus, such an outbreak could lead to a worldwide epidemic, causing widespread illness and death. In 1918, a flu virus killed more than twenty million people around the world.
In January, at a conference in Beijing, China, the U.S. pledged more than three-hundred-thirty-million dollars to the global campaign against bird flu. Ambassador Nancy Powell said the assistance will mainly go to Southeast Asian countries:
"The bulk of that is going to go into bilateral programs and technical assistance."
In a written statement, the U.S. State Department says the funds "will be largely in the form of grants and technical assistance to countries threatened by the virus." They will be used in a number of ways, including the testing of vaccines and the training of medical personnel.
Of the challenge posed by avian flu, President George W. Bush has said, "No nation can afford to ignore this threat, and every nation has responsibilities to detect and stop its spread."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.