WHO warns army may be needed to fight bird flu
By David Pilling in Tokyo
Published: January 13 2006 02:00
The World Health Organisation yesterday predicted authorities might need to
use the army and police to quarantine about 120,000 people to contain
aninitial pandemic flu outbreak of just 19 cases.
Hitoshi Oshitani, a consultant to WHO, said his estimates highlighted the
difficulty of formulating a rapid response toan initial outbreak of mutated
bird flu transmitted between humans.
Not only would such aggressive quarantining raise legal and human rights
concerns, he said, but knowledge about how to use antiviral drugs as a
preventative measure was limited.
Mr Oshitani, who presented his simulation at an international conference in
Tokyo, said the first requirement was rapid detection.
"Timeliness is key. If we do things the way we do right now, it will
probably be too late," he said, adding that two weeks after an outbreak was
probably the absolute limit.
Experts said that preventing an outbreak from spreading rapidly would be
difficult even if there was timely confirmation. Kenji Fukuda, a researcher
at WHO's global influenza programme, said: "Right now we do not know the
optimum dosage or length of treatment for prophylactic treatment."
Officials said Roche, the Swiss pharmaceuticals company that manufactures
Tamiflu, was only now designing protocols to test effective use of the
antiviral as a preventative medicine. Still experts said containment was the
best hope of preventing a mutated virus from spreading.
*The H5N1 avian flu virus that killed three people in Turkey has made a
small mutation that may adapt it more closely to infecting people but it is
still a long way from "going human" and starting a pandemic, according to a
largely reassuring genetic analysis released last night by the World Health
Organisation and UK Medical Research Council, adds Clive Cookson.
The WHO's international flu centre in London said the mutation was in the
gene for haemagglutinin, a protein used by flu virus to attach itself to
A similar mutation has been found previously in viruses taken from human
victims of H5N1 in Vietnam and Hong Kong.