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US Not Ready To Face The Bird Flu Outbreak

US Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said that his country is not prepared for bird flu pandemic//.

The H5N1 bird flu virus is yet to be detected in North America, but officials fear it is only a matter of time before it crosses the Atlantic after spreading from Asia to Europe and Africa.

While it was impossible to predict the flu's arrival, Leavitt told CNN Sunday, "It would not be a big surprise if we see it even in the next few months."

The US has stepped up its defences against the deadly avian flu by awarding $1 billion worth of contracts to five drug companies to develop a vaccine.

The White House released an action plan last week to counter any avian flu pandemic, amid fears that an outbreak could kill as many as two million Americans and cause economic havoc.

The US and the European Union will jointly host talks in Vienna on June 6-7 to review strategies to combat the bird flu crisis, including vaccine development.

Vaccine production was a top objective laid out in President George W. Bush's "National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza" released Wednesday.

A total of 206 people worldwide are confirmed by the World Health Organization to have been infected with H5N1, out of which 113 have died.

Leavitt compared such a pandemic to the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic, which killed some 50 million people worldwide.

"There's no reason to believe that the US will be exempted from that," he said.

--Edited IANS

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