The event, scheduled for Thursday, is aimed at developing ways to share information and resources in case the H5N1 avian flu virus mutates and begins to cause a human pandemic, which experts believe could kill millions within months.
   
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has killed or forced the destruction of tens of millions of birds and infected more than 100 people, killing at least 60 in four Asian nations since late 2003.
   
The virus has already caused losses of $10 billion to $15 billion to the global poultry industry, with the heaviest losses in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. 

Transmission fears
   
But the biggest fears are about what would happen if it mutated enough to become easily transmissible among people, who have no immunity against it.
   
To track this, scientists must keep testing samples of the virus, especially when people become infected. But some experts have complained that countries are not sharing their samples.
   
They hope a checklist of viral mutations will let them predict when the bird flu virus is about to acquire the ability to easily infect people.
   
Some computer models have suggested that quick action could contain an epidemic, preventing it from becoming a pandemic.

Experts hope the two-day US State Department meeting and others coming up can help lay this groundwork.
   
Australia will hold a regional meeting at the end of October to discuss an Asia-Pacific response to bird flu, Canada is holding a 25-26 October meeting of high-level officials in Ottawa, and the WHO has called for a 7-8 November meeting in Geneva to coordinate needed funding.