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Health

Bird flu still lurking, warns UN food agency FAO

The UN food agency has warned that bird flu which peaked in 2006 could return if governments drop their guard because of austerities. The agency says reservoirs of the H5N1 virus still exist in Asia and the Middle East.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth said Tuesday that governments were failing to "keep up their guard" through investment in preventative measures to keep bird flu in check.

"I see inaction in the face of very real threats to the health of animals and people," said Lubroth in a statement from FAO's Rome headquarters.

Scientists have long feared that the virus, which can be transmitted from birds to people, could cause a catastrophe if it mutates to be able to spread between humans.

Culling and deaths among birds cost economies an estimated 14.9 billion euros ($20 billion) between 2003 and 2011, according to the FAO. In the process, 400 million domestic chickens and ducks were culled.

In 2006 the H5N1 virus killed 79 people around the world and sparked fears of a pandemic.

Among the preventive measures recommended by the FAO are improved general hygiene, market and border controls and health inspections in farms and markets as well as equipment and training for laboratories.

ipj/dr (AFP, Reuter)