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Bird flu pandemic will hit young people-biologist

Written by: Staff

TORONTO, May 9 (Reuters) One of Canada's top microbiologists warned today that school-age children would be most at risk in a bird flu pandemic, echoing a 1918 pandemic that killed millions of people.

''Most cases in humans have been young, reminiscent of 1918,'' Donald Low, microbiologist-in-chief at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, said in a speech in Toronto.

The H5N1 strain of avian flu that is spreading among birds does not easily infect humans, but it has killed more than 100 people. Experts, including Low, fear it could mutate in to a form that could spread easily and quickly among people.

''The attack rate in a pandemic will be up to 30 percent, and will be highest among school-age children,'' said Low, who coordinated Toronto's fight against SARS in 2003.

Toronto was the only city outside Asia where people died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The disease infected 375 people in the city and killed 44.

The 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic killed between 20 million and 50 million people worldwide.

Reuters PDS VP0155

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