The World Health Organization is expanding its global team of experts to respond to bird flu outbreaks, which its director describes as a "fire brigade."
Dr. Michael Ryan, 41, heads the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, which also responds to other disease outbreaks, but whose greatest concern is the avian flu outbreaks in Asia.
Describing GOARN as a "global fire brigade," Ryan told there are about 400 people from nearly 200 government agencies, charitable organizations and academic institutions who have agreed to go to a disease outbreak on a moment's notice if their particular expertise is needed.
"We generally have a confident sense that if we intervene rapidly, we can deter disease on site," Ryan said. "We know through contract tracing, isolation, quarantine, infection control and good surveillance that we can put the fire out."
He is one of many flu experts who believe the world is closer to a pandemic now than anytime since 1968, when the Hong Kong flu killed about 1 million people worldwide.
Since late 2003, the H5N1 bird fly virus has infected 125 people and killed 64 in Asia, UPI reports.