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Public-health officials and researchers are racing against time in their efforts to contain a growing outbreak of avian flu in Asia. In spite of millions of birds being culled to keep the virus at bay, at least 14 people have so far been infected. And recent reports suggest that the virus has spread from one human to another for the first time.

This article examines the likelihood of a pandemic occurring and the chances of a vaccine being created in time. It also explores the risks and benefits of laboratory manipulation of the virus, and points to the challenges in the developing world of handling a possible outbreak.

For example, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, only six people have been tested for influenza in recent months, the article says. "Routine surveillance is just not possible," says World Health Organisation representative Sean Tobin, who explains the difficulties in battling against avian flu in countries that lack many of the essential resources needed to control an outbreak.

Link to full article in Nature

Reference: Nature 427, 472 (2004)

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