The World Health Organization's (WHO) top official in Asia said yesterday that east Asia remained the region at greatest risk for the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus.
"Although there are new developments in Turkey, the situation in Asia is more serious than in any other part of the world," said Shigeru Omi, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific.
Omi was in Tokyo yesterday ahead of a two-day conference aimed at measuring how ready Asian countries are to identify and respond to a potential flu pandemic.
The deaths of two more people in China and two in Turkey have brought the global toll from bird flu to 78, WHO said yesterday as it urged stepped-up preparation in case the illness turns into a pandemic strain.
Word of the latest two deaths in China -- a 10-year-old girl in the south and a 35-year-old man in the east -- followed confirmation by WHO of two bird flu fatalities in Turkey as the first outside eastern Asia.
Omi said much progress has been made over the past year in preparing for a worst-case pandemic scenario, with the international community coming together as one to "tackle this as a common enemy," but much work remains.
"The biggest challenge is how you translate this commitment into action, especially at the grassroots level where the infection is now occurring," he said.
Meanwhile, Turkey's European neighbors yesterday stepped up border checks against bird flu, disinfecting trucks and passing out fliers, and officials said the risk of the disease spreading westward has increased.
The deadly H5N1 flu strain has infected 15 people in Turkey, including two children who have died, according to preliminary tests.
In Greece, 500 additional veterinary staff were sent to border areas and state laboratories to speed up results on random bird tests, officials said. Motorists and truck drivers entering Greece from Turkey had their vehicles sprayed with disinfectant and were handed leaflets explaining how bird flu is spread.
"Whatever is humanly possible is being done. The development of the disease in Turkey is not good. ... We must not panic and we must not relax," Greek Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanlis said after an emergency meeting on bird flu.
The latest events in China, which has the world's biggest poultry industry, triggered further alarm just a day after the government warned the H5N1 crisis had not yet peaked and human-to-human transmission remained possible.
The WHO's spokesman in Beijing, Roy Wadia, said the latest two to die were a a 10-year-old girl in the southern Guangxi Province on Dec. 16 and a 35-year-old man in the eastern province of Jiangxi Province on Dec. 30.
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