The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned against culling wild birds in cities in countries affected by bird flu, saying this could distract attention from the campaign to contain the disease among poultry in the battle against the virus that could spark a potentially lethal human pandemic. “This is unlikely to make any significant contribution to the protection of humans against avian influenza,” FAO senior officer responsible for infectious animal diseases Juan Lubroth said of reports that wild birds were being killed in Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam as a precautionary measure. “There are other, much more important measures to be considered that deserve priority attention. Fighting the disease in poultry must remain the main focus of attention,” he added. “Wild bird species found in and around cities are different from the wetland waterfowl that have been identified as carriers of the avian influenza virus.” The Agency has previously warned that the H5N1 strain that has hit several Asian countries is likely to be carried over long distances along the flyways of wild water birds to the Middle East, Europe, South Asia and Africa, with the potential to trigger a global human pandemic.“Controlling the virus in poultry is the most effective way by which the likelihood of the bird flu virus acquiring human-to-human transmissibility can be reduced,” Mr. Lubroth said.Ever since the first human case of H5N1, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January last year, UN health officials have warned that the virus could evolve into a human pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. Overall, there have been 132 reported human H5N1 cases, 68 of them fatal, all in South-East and East Asia. Some 150 million domestic birds have died or been culled in an effort to curb the spread.FAO, along with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the inter-governmental World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), has recommend a series of measures to fight the virus, including improved veterinary services, emergency preparedness plans, and control campaigns such as culling infected animals, vaccination and compensation for farmers to encourage them to report outbreaks.