The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned that they caused too much international alarm with their recent statement that bird flu could kill as many as 150 million people. Scientific predictions of bird flu deaths have ranged from less than two million to as much as 360 million, but there’s no way to know how lethal the pandemic will be until it begins. One thing scientists do agree on is that there WILL be a pandemic.

Emma Ross reports in that Dr. David Nabarro mentioned the high number at a UN news conference recently. Now WHO’s flu expert Dick Thompson has announced that it’s necessary to put Nabarro’s remarks in the proper context. WHO thinks bird flu will kill an absolute maximum of 7.4 million people, most of whom will be in Asian countries.

The main thing to understand about bird, or avian, flu is that unlike most flu viruses, it does not cause upper respiratory symptoms, it causes pneumonia-like symptoms instead. While these can be lethal, especially for people who are already ill in the hospital, they are not necessarily deadly.

Thompson said that WHO “can’t [allow itself to] be dragged into further scaremongering.”

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