As public health leaders from around Asia gathered in Ho Chi Minh City Wednesday (February 23) to kick off a 3-day conference on controlling the spread of avian flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the role waterfowl play in spreading the deadly disease.

Shigeru Omi, the Western Pacific regional leader of the World Health Organization, opened the meeting with calls for cooperation between animal and human health experts.

"We at WHO believe that the world is now in the gravest possible danger of a pandemic," Omi said. His speech soon turned to ducks, thought to be the reservoir for the virus. "We now know that domestic ducks are playing a silent role in the transmission of the virus. The ducks are spreading the virus without showing any signs of illness. The public health implications of this are very serious."

Since last winter, bird flu has killed at least...

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