Feds: Bird Flu Border Closures Unlikely

The Associated Press
Monday, June 26, 2006; 6:18 PM

WASHINGTON -- Closing U.S. borders would be the last option in combating the spread of bird flu, a senior State Department official said Monday.

It would not be likely to decrease the number of cases, would interrupt essential services and would disrupt lawful border crossings, said Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs.

"Avian flu is not only a health issue. It has economic, social and security ramifications," Dobriansky said at a seminar at the Nixon Center, a private think tank.

Dobriansky outlined a U.S. government program in which information and other support is provided to 46 countries. Congress has provided $3.8 billion to finance this year's expenses.

The Agriculture Department's inspector general last week reported that the Bush administration lacked a comprehensive plan to test and monitor bird flu in commercial poultry.

Dobriansky declined to reply directly to the report, saying it was not issued by the State Department. However, she said "our efforts have been extremely well-coordinated" and include strong support for the World Health Organization and the U.N. Food Agency.

There have been outbreaks of the disease in 53 countries, leading to the deaths of 130 people, Dobriansky said.

If the disease escalates it could lead to civil unrest and instability, the State Department official said, and she likened the potential impact to the bubonic or Black Plague, which started in China and ravaged Europe in the 14th century.

Most human cases of bird flu have been traced to contact with sick birds. In Vietnam, 42 people have died, and in Indonesia, 39, since the virus began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003.

© 2006 The Associated Press