Experts calm fears over Asian bird flu

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The Independent Online

A bird flu that has killed at least three people and infected millions of chickens across Asia will not begin to spread between humans, a team of experts reported yesterday.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) sent a team of health officials to Hanoi to study the mysterious avian flu that has killed two children and one adult. Four further suspected human cases of the disease were reported yesterday in Vietnam, bringing the total number to 18.

Pascale Brudon, the WHO representative in Hanoi, said: "We are moving to a phase of greater urgency. There is a lot of awareness about the strong need to work quickly. Vietnamese officials are taking the matter very seriously."

Officials in South Korea, Vietnam and Japan have ordered mass slaughters to try to contain the outbreak.

The virus, which ishighly contagious among chickens, is believed to spread to humans through contact with infected birds. But Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the WHO infectious diseases section in Geneva, said "the likelihood that it will be human-to-human is low".

Symptoms of the bird flu in humans include fever, coughing and pneumonia.

A 31-year-old man from the northern Thai Binh province, south-west of Hanoi, died on Wednesday after contracting what doctors suspect was the bird flu. Three of his relatives were admitted to the tropical disease unit's isolation ward.