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Flu pandemic likely

A global influenza pandemic, causing deaths in the millions, is likely according to the World Health Organization (WHO).


A global influenza pandemic is approaching, warned officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday.

Experts have warned that even a "moderate" flu pandemic could kill millions of people worldwide, including 200,000 Americans.

"This is perhaps the only time since 1968, which was the last pandemic, that we are getting signs, symptoms and warnings from nature,” explained Margaret Chan, WHO’s new director for pandemic influenza preparedness. “More and more birds are dying in different parts of the world - this is the kind of signals, and early warnings that we are referring to.”

Health officials said signs a pandemic is likely include Indonesia’s first human bird flu case confirmed this week, coupled with increased bird deaths globally.

“We need to be very vigilant and look for early signals or signs of sustained human to human transmission,” Chan said. “We need to advise people from farm to table on what actions they can take or can advise communities to take to reduce that risk.”

Experts are concerned the virus will mix with human influenza to create a deadly pandemic, highly contagious strain that could kill millions of people.

There has been no known sustained human-to-human transmission of such a deadly virus but WHO officials called for stepped-up disease surveillance.

Bird flu - or the H5N1 virus - has killed more than 50 people in late 2003 in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

WHO’s risk assessment of a global pandemic still officially stood at three on a scale of six.

“Our experience is that if you are prepared for a pandemic you get less impact in terms of mortality and morbidity and social and economic disruption,” Chan said.

In the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services has been under fire in Congress for not having a better influenza response completed.

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