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HEALTH

Romania isolates bird flu village

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Hospital pharmacy officials work in Indonesia, where the U.N. says more money is needed to fight bird flu.

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BUCHAREST, Romania (CNN) -- Romanian officials quarantined a Danube delta village of about 30 people Friday after three dead ducks there tested positive for bird flu -- the first such cases reported in the region.

Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur said the virus found in the farm-raised ducks came from migrating birds from Russia.

And while it is difficult for the virus to spread from birds to humans, authorities were taking no chances. They sealed off the village of Ciamurlia and banned hunting and fishing in eight counties in the region.

Romania also suspended imports of chickens and other poultry from 15 countries, most of them in Asia.

There have been no immediate reports of sickness in the village. Flutur said officials were working to get vaccinations and medication to the people affected by the quarantine.

Flutur said samples from the dead ducks have been sent to London for further examination.

The World Health Organization has said there have been at least 116 human cases of the current bird flu virus, including 60 deaths. All but a handful of cases were caused by direct contact with sick birds, indicating the virus is unable to move easily among humans.

But health officials have warned that with continued exposure to people, the virus could mutate further and develop the ability to pass directly from humans to humans.

Top health officials from 80 countries and eight international organizations have been meeting in Washington the past two days to discuss how best to respond if the current bird flu turned into a pandemic, such as the 1918 strain that killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million people.

On Thursday, America's top health official said the world is "woefully unprepared" to respond to a pandemic.

"The world is woefully unprepared," Mike Leavitt, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, told CNN.

"You'd think that it would be a matter of constant concern to us. It has not been, anywhere in the world and, consequently, the world is unprepared. And we're now as a civilization rallying to say, 'What can we do to better prepare?'"

Leavitt made his comments as health experts from around the world gathered in Washington to discuss the possibility of a flu pandemic.

Leavitt, who is hosting the Washington gathering along with U.S. Global Affairs Undersecretary Paula Dobriansky, said officials were trying to devise a comprehensive surveillance plan so that the virus could be monitored closely, allowing for a quick response if it was seen to be spreading.

That way, he said, "if it happens in Thailand or Laos or Cambodia, the rest of the world can go there and help them contain it. Containment is our first strategy."

Officials participating in the session said the United States hoped the conference would produce 10 to 15 key policy priorities for countries to implement -- proposals first unveiled last month at the U.N. General Assembly.

The principles include transparency of quick and accurate reporting of outbreaks, donor support for affected countries and a pledge to work with the World Health Organization.

One senior U.S. State Department official said the goal of the conference was to build "political momentum" for countries to coordinate their efforts to quickly identify and respond to cases in animals or people so the disease does not spread.

The United States also wants to help build capacity of affected countries that may not be equipped to deal with an outbreak.

The Bush administration has seized on the avian flu as a potential threat.

President George W. Bush has said aggressive action would be needed to prevent a potentially disastrous U.S. outbreak of the disease.

But his call for Congress to give him the power to use the military in law enforcement roles in the event of a bird flu pandemic has been criticized as akin to introducing martial law. (Full story)

The White House has also called on representatives of the pharmaceutical industry to meet Friday about getting involved in the manufacturing of more flu vaccines.

In his interview with CNN, Leavitt also said the United States needed to do more at home.

"We also need to have surveillance domestically, so if it shows up here we know about it very quickly," he said.

Plenty of antiviral drugs and vaccines needed to be available on short notice, he said, and local communities must be well-versed on how to respond "because a pandemic is something that happens all over the country at the same time."

"This is a unique type of problem that we need to be better prepared for," Leavitt said. "A pandemic is essentially nature's terrorist."

Researchers announced Wednesday that they had reconstructed the 1918 strain of flu virus, a major advancement that could speed up preparation for -- and potentially thwart -- a pandemic. (Full story)

It marks the first time an infectious agent behind a historic pandemic has ever been recreated.

Australia is set to host a meeting of the 21 members of APEC at the end of October, where pandemic and disaster management coordinators will discuss the Asia-Pacific region's response to the threat. (Full story)

Journalist Nicoleta Dragusin in Bucharest and CNN's Elise Labott, Deirdre Walsh and Bob Franken contributed to this report

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