UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The U.N. official charged with coordinating the global response to bird flu urges affected countries to cooperate fully with agencies monitoring the virus.
Speaking to reporters Friday at U.N. World Headquarters in New York, David Nabarro urged countries to separate efforts to contain outbreaks and prevent mutations of the H5N1 virus from the issue of access to treatment should a human pandemic occur.
"When the pandemic starts, it will be a global issue, and not simply a national issue," Nabarro said, appealing to countries to uphold a spirit of transparency.
The comment came in response to reports Indonesia -- which has recorded the highest death toll from bird flu, with 63 out of 81 cases -- is considering withholding virus samples of affected individuals to the World Health Organization unless Jakarta is assured access to vaccines.
Since the first human case of bird flu was detected in January 2004, there have been 272 confirmed human cases worldwide. Of the total number of infected, 166 have died and the vast majority of cases have occurred in Southeast Asia.
Recent reports of outbreaks on poultry farms in Britain, Hungary and Nigeria have added fresh alarm.
"The danger is not the individuals being affected with bird flu. The danger is the possibility of that bird flu transforming itself into a pandemic influenza virus," Nabarro said.
While infected poultry can be consumed safely once cooked, the WHO has warned the home slaughter and subsequent handling of diseased or dead birds increases the risk of human infection.
Nabarro also said bird flu can be spread through water that infected birds come in contact with, and through soil that touches the affected water.