The European Union urgently needs to increase preparations for a potential influenza pandemic stemming from avian flu, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) official and a leading expert in zoonotic diseases. Their warning comes just a week before an emergency meeting called by WHO to discuss the risk of a pandemic.

Klaus Stöhr, head of WHO's global influenza program, and Albert Osterhaus, of the Institute of Virology, Erasmus University in the Netherlands, both told The Scientist that the European Commission, the European Union's executive body, has not done enough to prepare for a bird flu–related pandemic.

Stöhr noted that the average span between global influenza pandemics is 27 years, and that the last global pandemic occurred in 1968. With avian flu circulating in Asia and beyond and worrisome human cases appearing, the risk of it spinning into a human pandemic is high.

"We have not been this...

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