Geneva — Experts were divided Tuesday over whether the deadly bird flu strain ravaging farms in parts of Asia can be wiped out in poultry.
Veterinary experts at the U.N.'s agriculture agency said that given enough money, the virus can be eliminated from the global poultry population within a year.
However, a bird specialist at the World Organization for Animal Health said the close contact between poultry and wild birds in Asia means the most that can be hoped for is to contain the virus until it mutates to a milder form and disappears, or develops into a human strain capable of spreading globally.
The experts spoke to The Associated Press on the sidelines of a global coordination meeting on bird flu and human pandemic flu hosted by the World Health Organization.
Stamping out the H5N1 virus in poultry is considered the best defense against the possibility of it becoming a human strain that sparks a global pandemic capable of killing millions of people.
Nobody has kept track of exactly how much has been spent on trying to eliminate H5N1 from poultry stocks. However, the World Bank estimates that on the basis of current programs and pledges, more money will be spent on stockpiling flu drugs than on efforts to control the disease in poultry.
"On the one hand, there's a certain frustration, but we see the money now flowing, so we're more optimistic than we were half a year ago," said Samuel Jutzi of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.
"With the current resources : it cannot be contained," Jutzi continued. "With the right resources in the domestic bird population, it should be a matter of a year to get rid of it."
However, Alejandro Thiermann, president of the International Animal Health Code at the World Organization for Animal Health, said he does not believe the virus can be eliminated in poultry.
"The virus is here to stay until, through genetic mutations, it really causes havoc or it's defeated by nature and disappears. But we are not going to be able to make it disappear from domestic birds," Thiermann said.