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    Devastating bird flu pandemic one step away - expert

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    MOSCOW, March 7 (RIA Novosti) - The world is one step away from a bird flu pandemic that cannot be averted by quarantine or vaccination, a Russian expert said Tuesday.

    "One amino-acid replacement in the genome remains to make the virus transferable from human to human," said Dmitry Lvov, the director of a virology research institute at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences.

    Lvov said the pandemic virus could strike at any moment, and would most likely come from China, leading to tens of millions of human deaths, or one third of the global population. He added quarantine measures could delay the pandemic for a few days but not prevent it, and that vaccination would not stop people getting sick.

    "A good vaccine will only save [people] from death and complications, but not from the illness itself," he said.

    Lvov said any pandemic was based on a hybridization of the bird and human viruses.

    Pigs are the most vulnerable animals in the face of both human and bird viruses, which makes them "an intermediary link between human and bird flu," he said.

    Lvov said the bird flu pandemic was irreversible like any other natural cataclysm, and would not stop until the highly pathogenic strain mutates into a less dangerous one.

    "When will it stop? When highly pathogenic strains localized in wild birds are once again transformed into a low-pathogenic one according to the law of nature," Lvov said.

    He said all that could be done to deal with the pandemic was large amounts of vaccination, hundreds of thousands of beds in intensive care, and the necessary instruments and medicines.

    Lvov also said that the bird flu virus would shortly sweep the south of central Russia, specifically the Astrakhan, Rostov-on-Don, and Volgograd Regions.

    The Agriculture Ministry said Monday that bird flu had been registered in eight regions in the south of the country, a major stopover area for migrating birds.

    The ministry said over 1.3 million birds had died or been slaughtered in three outbreaks of bird flu since July 2005.

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