WHO on 'High Alert' Over Bird Flu

Worrying strains are spreading fast
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2017 2:37 AM CST
A worker disinfects cages at a closed poultry store in Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang province.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – The World Health Organization says it's on high alert over outbreaks of bird flu that have killed people in China and caused large-scale slaughtering of birds elsewhere. "The rapidly expanding geographical distribution of these outbreaks and the number of virus strains currently co-circulating have put WHO on high alert," Director-General Margaret Chan told the agency's board this week, per Reuters. She said the world is better prepared for a bird flu pandemic than it was during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 and 2010, "but not at all well enough."

Chan said that more than 1,000 cases of bird flu in humans had been reported in China over the last four years, including 39 fatalities. At least 225 cases have been reported since September, reports the New York Times, which notes that the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday is a peak time for infections because of the massive movements of people—and live poultry—around China. Chan said it was vital for all countries to report cases of bird flu as soon as they're detected. "We cannot afford to miss the early signals," she said. Chinese officials have promised to cooperate. The AP reported earlier this month that hundreds of homeless New York City cats were quarantined after testing positive for a strain of bird flu. (Read more bird flu stories.)

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