David Nabarro, the UN's new co-ordinator for avian and human influenza says a flu pandemic could happen at any time and kill between 5-150 million people.
The BBC reports that Nabarro said a mutation of the virus affecting Asia could trigger new outbreaks:
The UN's new co-ordinator for avian and human influenza said the likelihood that the Asian virus could mutate and jump to humans was high.
Because it has moved to wild migratory birds there is a possibility "that the first outbreak could happen even in Africa or in the Middle East", he warned.
[. . .]
He said the number of deaths from any future influenza pandemic would depend on where it started, how quickly it was discovered and the kind of response they got from governments.
In another sign that officials are taking the threat of a pandemic seriously, yesterday the U.S. Senate voted to provide $4 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stockpile anti-flu medicine to protect people against bird flu and prepare for a potential outbreak.
By voice vote, senators agreed to tack the proposal onto next year's $440 billion defense spending bill. The Senate still must approve the overall defense bill, and a vote is expected next week. Then, the Senate must work out a final version with the House, which did not include money for bird flu preparedness in its defense bill.
According to Newsday, about $3 billion of the Senate-approved money would be used to buy the anti-flu drug Tamiflu. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has called for a Tamiflu stockpile to treat 20 million people, yet there are only enough pills on hand to treat a few million.
The U.S. has taken other steps to deal with the bird flu. Last April President Bush signed an executive order authorizing the government to impose a quarantine to deal with any outbreak of the bird flu.