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US Airlines Worried About Bird Flu In Passengers

WASHINGTON - Federal officials in the United States are worried that U.S. airlines could be on the front lines in the event of an outbreak of the deadly bird flu//.

Health officials are already issuing guidelines on the measures to be taken if any sick passengers are to be quarantined. The Federal officials are vested with authority to take quick measures if they suspect any passenger of harboring the avian flu virus. The concerns are legitimate since it was air travel that was responsible for the spread of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS from Asia to Canada. The deadly disease ended up claiming 800 lives globally before being contained. A similar scenario could be devastating in the case of the bird flu, which is expected to be far deadlier that SARS ever was. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken steps to increase the number of quarantine centers in big airports from 8 in 2003 to 18 at the moment. The threat of the bird flu virus is primarily responsible for the same. Ram Koppaka, chief of the CDC's quarantine and border health division said that plans were afoot to increase these centers to about 25. "I think what we have to remember at this point is that there is not a human pandemic," he said. "It's primarily bird populations and there have been a limited number of human cases in close contact with infected birds."

The main cause for all this panic stems from the fact that the H5N1 virus is thought to be the deadliest of the bird flu viruses and could mutate to a form, which can spread easily from person to person. In the event of this happening, experts have predicted millions of casualties since there is no known cure for the influenza. The virus has already killed about 64 people in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia over the last 24 months.

A vaccine called Tamiflu has proved to be effective against the virus and nations are currently stockpiling the same.

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