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U.N. Bird Flu Expert to Battle N.Korea Outbreaks

by 5m Editor
30 March 2005, at 12:00am

NORTH KOREA - A top United Nations bird flu expert has flown to North Korea to help assess and contain outbreaks of the disease among poultry in the secretive state, the Food and Agriculture Organization said on Wednesday.

U.N. Bird Flu Expert to Battle N.Korea Outbreaks - NORTH KOREA - A top United Nations bird flu expert has flown to North Korea to help assess and contain outbreaks of the disease among poultry in the secretive state, the Food and Agriculture Organization said on Wednesday.

Hans Wagner, a senior FAO official based in Bangkok who has played a prominent role in Asia's battle against the deadly H5N1 virus, flew to Pyongyang on Tuesday, a day after North Korea told the agency of outbreaks without saying which strain caused them.

He will be joined soon by two FAO consultants from China and Australia who are part of a regional network set up to fight the H5N1 strain which has killed 49 people in Asia since late 2003 -- 16 since the virus erupted anew in December.

"They will look at the strategies being set up by the government and also bring some supplies," FAO spokesman Diderik de Vleeschauwer told Reuters.

North Korea said on Sunday it had culled hundreds of thousands of birds after avian influenza hit two farms in Pyongyang, but did not say whether the bird flu virus was the H5N1 strain which can jump from birds to humans.

The FAO has sent avian flu diagnostic kits to North Korea, where the agency already has a project to upgrade veterinary laboratories, provide equipment and create a network for sharing information on the disease.

Poultry production was one of few growing sectors in North Korea, where many people were short of food and the supply of animal protein was very limited, the FAO said.

North Korean farms produced 25.5 million birds in 2004, about two times more than in 1997.

South Korea, which has stepped up quarantine measures at border points and at poultry farms near the border, believes the outbreaks in North Korea are extensive.

De Vleeschauwer said it was too early for the FAO team to give its assessment, but he said the North Koreans were being "open and transparent."

"They are willing to work with FAO and they realize this is a serious situation," he said.

It is the first time North Korea has confirmed an outbreak of bird flu and the fear is that it will prove to be the H5N1 virus which has proved extremely difficult to stamp out in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The FAO says bird flu is now endemic in the region and experts no longer talk about eradicating it.

Now they just hope to contain it before it mutates into a form that can pass between humans easily and set off a global pandemic which could kill millions of people with no immunity to the new strain.

The FAO team is expected to stay in North Korea until next week. The agency is also working with the government to hold a national bird flu workshop soon to improve awareness, control methods and promote good farming practices.

Source: Reuters - 30th March 2005

5m Editor