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Still Not Clear Whether Humans Pass Bird Flu - WHO

13.02.2004
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Still Not Clear Whether Humans Pass Bird Flu - WHO
GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday it had jumped the gun in declaring tests on victims had shown no genetic evidence that bird flu could be passed from person to person.

It said latest information showed that it was too early to make that conclusion.

Last Friday\'s announcement by the United Nations agency had been greeted with huge relief because of fears that the deadly virus, which has prompted the culling of millions of chickens and other fowl across Asia, could spread quickly among humans.

But the WHO said that there had been a mix-up in the testing of two Vietnamese sisters who died after catching it, and that results initially given for one of them had turned out to be from another victim instead.

\"The sequencing announced Friday by WHO showed that the two viruses were both entirely of avian origin with no human genes, indicating the viruses had not become adapted to be easily transmitted from one human to another,\" the Geneva-based body said in a statement.

\"Today, WHO has learned that the virus from only one sister has been sequenced,\" it said, adding that the results from the other sister were expected later this week.

Until then, no firm conclusions could be drawn, particularly because it was the second, so far untested sister, who was of particular interest, WHO officials said.

\"She was the one who apparently had had no direct contact with any diseased bird,\" said WHO spokesman Dick Thompson. \"So we cannot rule out human-to-human transmission,\" he added.

The H5N1 virus has hit Vietnam the hardest, killing at least 14 people. It has also infected flocks of chickens and ducks in South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Laos and Indonesia.

Health experts have warned that it has the potential to cause a serious epidemic among people if it acquires the ability to pass easily from person to person.


REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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