More than 400 animal and human health experts, senior policy makers, economists and industry representatives will gather in Geneva this week to work towards a strategy to control the H5N1 avian influenza virus in domestic animals and prepare for a potential human influenza pandemic.

The disease in animals caused by the H5N1 influenza virus has resulted in the culling of at least 150 million birds in the last two years. H5N1 remains for the moment an animal disease, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that it is a virus that has the potential to cause a human influenza pandemic.

The meeting is co-organised by WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Bank. The goal of the meeting is to work towards a strategy for controlling the disease in animals while simultaneously preparing for a potential human pandemic.

“This virus is very treacherous,” said Dr Margaret Chan, representative of the WHO director-general for pandemic influenza. “While we cannot predict when or if the H5N1 virus might spark a pandemic, we cannot ignore the warning signs.”