Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Experts discuss how to contain bird flu

By Caroline Hong  /  STAFF REPORTER

The 2004 Asia and Pacific Intercity Symposium on Influenza Control and Prevention ended yesterday with various medical experts emphasizing the importance of surveillance, control and antiviral distribution in outbreaks of avian influenza outbreak.

The two-day conference was held at National Taiwan University and was sponsored by the Taipei City Government, the city government's department of health, and the Taiwan Society of Disaster Medicine.

Answering questions on what she would do were she director-general of the World Health Organization in the closing discussion of the symposium, Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉), an associate research fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Academia Sinica, said that much of the medical community's ability to control an outbreak of influenza was based on luck.

"I would try to contain the contagion as much as possible; but if the infection turns out to be multi-focus, with outbreaks in many places at the same time, then containment is almost impossible. If we're lucky and can catch the first wave [of infection], then I would close the entire city and distribute anti-virus medication," she said.

Researchers also stressed the high mutability of bird flu viral strains as a further reason for heightened surveillance.

According to the city's Department of Health, the symposium was held in order to share Taipei City's experiences in flu prevention and control with the international community and to help build a collective epidemic and prevention network. Nine local and international scholars presented findings at the symposium.

The first day of the symposium was dedicated to research and discussion of avian bird flu pathogenesis and pandemic flu outbreak preparedness in Asia, with an emphasis on Taiwan.

The second day of the symposium focused on different countries' experiences on and strategies in dealing with outbreaks, including Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The conference came on the wave of increased concern brought about by this past winter's avian bird flu scare. In late 2003 and early 2004, avian flu outbreaks were found in southern and eastern Asia, the US and Canada.

Taiwan was relatively mildly hit by bird flu, with only a weaker strain making an appearance among the country's domestic poultry.

According to information presented during the symposium, the most prevalent bird flu strain in Taiwan is H4N6, not the deadly H5N1 that caused at least eighteen deaths in Vietnam and Thailand this winter.

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