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Evidence that people are now transmitting the bird flu virus to others increases the likelihood of a human pandemic. Keeping track of how the virus is mutating is crucial to being able to predict such a pandemic, but this requires the continued analysis of large numbers of samples from bird flu patients.

In this week's Nature, Declan Butler reports that the World Health Organization (WHO), which is in charge of the global effort against the virus, has so far received just six samples, the last of which was sent in October 2004.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which should be collecting samples to track the infection in poultry in Asia, has not been given any new samples either. Not only that, but the WHO has accused the FAO of not sharing what it does have.

An FAO representative said that countries are not supplying samples partly because they lack the resources to transport such material safely, but also because they are reluctant to release information that the press might make public or other scientists might take credit for.

While the FAO is trying to negotiate the terms of using national samples, the WHO is addressing themselves directly to government health representatives rather than relying on its fellow UN agency.

So far, Vietnam has agreed to send samples, which WHO officials hope will encourage others to do the same.

Link to full article in Nature  

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