Expert Predicts 'Perfect Setup' for Avian Flu Pandemic

"You have to take a look at the 1918 experience and realize if 50 [million] to 100 million people died and those numbers come from a recent study from a group of historians that went country by country to determine that number," said Osterholm. "Today we have three times the number in the world -- those numbers are roughly at 180 [million] to 360 million could die. The bottom line is the way these people die. Our medical care delivery system in the modern world isn't any better prepared than in 1918."

A concern about avian flu has prompted the Senate to approve $4 billion for bird flu readiness. On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Nabarro's appointment to lead a coordinated global response to a possible pandemic. Nabarro has helped outline WHO's plans for several potential crisis situations, including malaria, environmental health and food safety.

"The appointment is critical as the world is fast recognizing the risk of an imminent human influenza pandemic and is taking steps to reduce the risk and to get prepared," WHO said in a statement.

WHO said several countries already have joined forces to coordinate preparation. Agriculture ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are meeting in the Philippines to discuss measures to curb the avian flu virus in birds. In addition, the United States announced a new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza at last month's World Summit in New York. Several countries are joining the effort, with a planning meeting slated Oct. 7-8 in Washington. WHO also is hosting a meeting of all partners on Nov. 7-8 to coordinate the funding needed.

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