UN health expert warns Bird Flu could kill 150 million

Friday, September 30, 2005

A United Nations health expert who is co-ordinating the response to the recent south-east Asian bird flu outbreak, has warned that the disease could kill 'up to 150 million' people in the near future.

Dr David Nabarro told the BBC that a new outbreak of bird flu was possible, with migratory birds carrying the disease to Africa or the Middle East where the human death toll "could be anything between 5m and 150m".

"The consequences in terms of human life when the pandemic does start are going to be extraordinary and very damaging."

Bird flu — also known as avian influenza — is a type of influenza virulent in birds. It was first identified in Italy in the early 1900s and is now known to exist worldwide. It was not known to affect humans until the first recorded case in Hong Kong in 1997.

Bird flu has spread rapidly through poultry and wild birds in Asia since 2003, killing huge numbers of birds and more than 60 humans.

"It's like a combination of global warming and HIV/Aids 10 times faster than it's running at the moment," Dr Nabarro said.

In contrast to the shock-factor of Dr Nabarro's comments, the U.N. has distanced themselves from his remarks. The World Health Organization's official estimate for the death toll in the event of a mutation of the H5N1 virus is between 2 and 7.4 million. WHO influenza spokesman, Dick Thompson, implied that Dr Nabarro would be taken to task over his remarks, stating, "I don't think you will hear Dr Nabarro say the same sort of thing again."