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Despite the possibility of the H5N1 virus sparking a human flu pandemic, comprehensive data about bird flu outbreaks in poultry and people is not being made available in a timely fashion.

This editorial in Nature criticises scientists for hoarding data in the hope of being the first to publish, and researchers linked to UN agencies for restricting data on H5N1's genetics to private networks.

It says the World Health Organization's (WHO) information on human cases are scattered over hundreds of websites, while online data on outbreaks in poultry from the World Organization for Animal Health are incomplete and contain errors.

From 2007, the WHO will require member nations to report all cases of infectious disease that are of international concern. But what is really needed, says the editorial, is a publicly available online database that is updated in real-time.

For the time being, it says, the best sources of information are media reports and online 'blogs'.

Link to full article in Nature