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India bird flu cull continues

Worst case economic scenarios puts cost at $4.4 trillion

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(CNN) -- The mass culling of poultry continued Monday in India's western state of Maharashtra, two days after three cases of bird flu were found among chickens there.

Officials plan to kill some 700,000 fowl within 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) of where the infected birds were found.

Farmers will be compensated for their losses, officials said.

Meanwhile, health officials are going door-to-door in the region, looking for any people who may be showing signs of the virus.

So far, no human cases have been found, but several people with flu-like symptoms are under observation, authorities said.

Indian health officials confirmed the bird flu outbreak among poultry in Nandurbar district Saturday, and authorities with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) -- which tracks disease outbreaks among animals -- confirmed the findings Monday.

Dr. H.K. Pradhan, head of the high-security animal disease laboratory in the central Indian city of Bhopal, announced the finding of the deadly H5N1 strain and said the lab has been testing samples from tens of thousands of poultry that have died in the past couple of weeks.

Health Secretary T.K. Hota said the flu is thought to have spread to farm birds from migratory birds.

Maharashtra state has a large poultry industry, contributing largely to the $84 million worth of poultry and eggs India exports annually.

India is the world's fifth-biggest exporter of eggs, and the bird flu scare could cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

'Worst case' scenario

This spread of the disease from Asia to Europe in recent weeks has prompted the United States, the EU and countries such as China and Japan to commit hefty financial resources.

A sobering new study released this month said as many as 142 million people around the world could die if bird flu mutates into a "worst case" human form of the disease with global economic losses running to $4.4 trillion -- the equivalent of wiping out the Japanese economy's annual output. (Full story)

The study, prepared for the Sydney, Australia-based Lowy Institute think tank, says there are "enormous uncertainties" about whether a flu pandemic might happen, and where and when it might happen first.

But it says even a mild pandemic could kill 1.4 million people and cost $330 billion.

The report says the major difficulty with vaccine development is "the need to hit the constantly moving target as the virus mutates very rapidly."

Their observation follows a study released earlier in February which said bird flu was much more diverse than previously thought, with at least four distinct types of the deadly H5N1 virus. (Full story)

One of the researchers, Dr. Malik Peiris, professor of microbiology at Hong Kong University, told CNN on February 8 that regional virus types meant there was a need to look for "broad cross-protection" rather than a single vaccine.

-- CNN Correspondent Ram Ramgopal contributed to this report

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