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Avian influenza and food safety: statement by Dr LEE Jong-Wook, WHO Director-General


27 February 2006

Since the beginning of February 2006, the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread to affect wild or domestic birds in 17 new countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

The World Health Organization reconfirms that, when poultry products are safely handled and properly cooked, humans are not at risk of acquiring H5N1 infection through food.

Although the H5N1 virus is highly infectious among poultry, it is not easily transmissible to humans. Since December 2003, this virus is known to have infected 173 people, of whom 93 have died. Not one of these cases has been linked to the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products.

The main health risk currently is to people who are in close contact with infected poultry, such as families with backyard flocks and poultry workers in wet markets or live animal markets.

Heightened surveillance among domestic and wild birds, rapid detection of the virus, and swift implementation of control measures are important in supporting and maintaining consumer confidence in the safety of poultry products.

Globally, the evidence demonstrates that there is no risk of infection when birds and eggs are well-cooked, as this kills the virus. Poultry products are important sources of protein throughout the world.

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