International health officials warned yesterday that the world was closer to its next pandemic – a potent mix of avian influenza and a human flu virus – and that Asia was likely to be its epicentre.
Francois-Xavier Meslin, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) co-ordinator for disease control, prevention and eradication, said: “We are getting closer, but when it’s going to happen, I don’t know. If it happens, which is not yet proven, it’s going to be worse than Sars. A full-blown flu virus you can transmit easily to people in your family or people you work with. It’s a highly contagious disease compared to Sars.”
Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, killed 774 and infected nearly 8,000, mostly in Asia, in 2003.
The H5N1 bird-flu virus, which ravaged the region’s poultry stocks, also spread to people, killing 32 people in Thailand and Vietnam. But there was no evidence that it had acquired the human-flu characteristics it would need to be passed easily between people.