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Corporate bird flu worry highest in Asia - survey

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Mar 22 (Reuters) About one in five multinational companies is not at all concerned about avian flu, and among those that are, few have plans in place to deal with a deadly global outbreak of the disease, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Not surprisingly, the survey of 90 multinational companies conducted within the last 60 days found the greatest level of concern from those operating in the Asia-Pacific region, where the vast majority of bird flu deaths among humans has occurred.

Some 74 per cent of companies surveyed expressed great or moderate concern for operations in the Asia-Pacific region, with 52 per cent saying they are considering putting programs in place to deal with a human outbreak in the region. Some 32 percent said they already have a plan in place for Asia.

Despite warnings from world health officials that a global bird flu pandemic among humans was highly likely, the level of concern remains far lower for other regions, as was the percentage of companies with avian flu outbreak plans in place, the survey found.

''While focusing on Asia is a logical response to news of flu cases there, employers need to make sure they are considering the possible impact the avian flu could have on all regions,'' said Robert Wesselkamper, director of international consulting at Watson Wyatt.

''A good first step for companies is to note what worked and what didn't in their planned responses to past threats such as SARS,'' Wesselkamper said PLANNED RESPONSE Forty-eight perc ent of companies operating in the United States said they are considering such plans, although only 15 per cent said they have plans in place. Thirty-four per cent of responders with US operations said they were greatly or moderately concerned about avian flu.

Among those with European operations, 45 per cent expressed a high level of concern for the region with only 11 per cent saying they have plans set to deal with a European outbreak.

Some 47 per cent said they were considering such programs.

Just 9 per cent of responding companies said they have plans in place to deal with an outbreak in Latin America, where 36 percent of companies expressed great or moderate concern.

Wesselkamper declined to identify any of the 20 per cent of companies that expressed no concern, for fear of upsetting their employees.

The vast majority of the companies surveyed were headquartered in the United States, with several based in Asia or Europe, Wesselkamper said.

Responding companies on average had more than 15,000 employees worldwide, with nearly half having operations in at least five regions.

The World Health Organization has confirmed 103 human deaths from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza. The disease has not mutated into a form that can easily be transmitted from human to human, but health officials have said they believe it is more a matter of when rather than if that will happen, and that such a development could kill millions.

REUTERS PR RN0839

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