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Avian Flu

If WHO is really trying to "calm bird flu fears," it is not succeeding:

WHO Tries to Calm Bird Flu Fears: By EMMA ROSSThe Associated Press: GENEVA -- The World Health Organization moved Friday to dampen fears over alarming predictions quoted by one of its own officials that a pandemic stemming from the bird flu virus ravaging parts of Asia could kill as many as 150 million people.... Dr. David Nabarro -- a senior WHO official named Thursday as the new U.N. coordinator for avian and human influenza [[ cited the number during a press conference at the U.N.'s New York headquarters. WHO's flu spokesman at the agency's Geneva headquarters made a surprise appearance Friday at the U.N. regular media briefing in an effort to put Nabarro's comments in context.

While he did not say the 150 million prediction was wrong, or even implausible, he reiterated that WHO considers a maximum death toll of 7.4 million a more reasoned forecast. Scientists have made all sorts of predictions, ranging from less than 2 million to 360 million. Others have quoted 150 million. "We're not going to know how lethal the next pandemic is going to be until the pandemic begins," said WHO influenza spokesman Dick Thompson. "You could pick almost any number," until then, he said, adding that WHO "can't be dragged into further scaremongering."

Experts agree that there will certainly be another flu pandemic -- a new human flu strain that goes global. However, it is unknown when or how bad that global epidemic will be. It is also unknown whether the H5N1 bird flu strain circulating in Asian poultry now will be the origin of the next pandemic, but experts are tracking it just in case and governments across the world are preparing themselves for such a possibility....

Normal seasonal flu viruses have an attack rate of between 5 percent and 20 percent, but a death rate of less than 1 percent. Between 250,000 and 500,000 die from flu every year.... Pandemic flu strains tend to infect between 25 percent and 35 percent of the population. The worst death rate was seen in the 1918 pandemic... killing a total of about 40 million people.The other two pandemics were gentler. The 1957 one killed 2 million people and the most recent one, in 1968, killed 1 million people.