http://www.birdflurss.com/index.php?id=356 NEW YORK, Mar.29 (Dow Jones): U.S. government officials monitoring the spread of avian influenza are expecting the first case to reach Alaska in about three weeks and to hit the West Coast by autumn, Prudential Equity Group said Wednesday. The H5 pathogen has been confirmed in 51 or more countries, according to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health, causing the culling of millions of birds across Asia, Europe and, more recently, the Middle East. The first cases in the U.S. won't necessarily make humans ill -- only the bird version of the disease is expected here, at least initially, said Kim Monk, a Prudential senior health-care-policy analyst. "The virus might only spread bird to bird or, rarely, bird to human, and it may or may not ever mutate into a human-to-human virus," said Monk. "So for now, the only real threat is to the poultry industry." More than 100 people have died since the H5 virus first occurred in Asia in 2003, most of them after direct contact with infected birds. But scientists are worried the pathogen could mutate and become transmissible between humans, potentially creating a pandemic to rival the outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1918. That virus killed about 50 million people. The Bush administration, like other governments, is bracing for a potential pandemic. It is seeking up to $7 billion to fund programs to develop and stock supplies of vaccines. Among the companies most likely to benefit from the effort are Roche, the biggest manufacturer of Tamiflu; GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) , which makes the antiviral Relenza; and makers of cell-based vaccines such as Chrion (CHIR) , Solvay and Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) . 3M (MMM) could gain attention if there's increased demand for protective paper masks, the analyst said.