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According to official estimates, 70 people have been infected with bird flu since the beginning of the current epidemic, but researchers say the true number of infections could be much greater.

So far there has been no coordinated effort to determine the spread of the virus and the lack of information is hindering attempts to understand and tackle the disease. In this article in Science, Martin Enserink and Dennis Normile explain why there are gaps in the information being gathered.

Many mild cases of people infected with the bird flu virus, H5N1, could be unreported or diagnosed as other diseases.

In addition, the method that is widely used to detect infection may not be sensitive enough. A more accurate method is both slower and more costly. And because of the risks of working with H5N1, it can only be carried used in high-security laboratories, of which there are few in Asia.

The lack of adequate record keeping also complicates matters.

The article comes just as reports of an outbreak of bird flu in North Korea have been published in the South Korean press. Klaus Stöhr, coordinator of the World Health Organization's global influenza programme, notes that it would be difficult to investigate and bring under control an outbreak in this secretive nation.

Link to full article in Science

Reference: Science 307, 1865 (2005)

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