Map of Bird migration routes - EU urges global bird flu response - 18/10/2005

link to article in BBC

EU urges global bird flu response

Romania says it has found further cases of bird flu
A bird flu pandemic is a global threat needing a co-ordinated international response, say EU foreign ministers.
They issued a statement following a meeting that came hours after Greece became the first member of the bloc to confirm a case of bird flu.

But EU health chief Markos Kyprianou stressed the presence of bird flu in Europe did not mean there would be an human influenza pandemic.

The World Health Organization has urged people not to panic-buy anti-flu drugs.

Click here to see areas affected by the H5N1 virus
The deadly H5N1 strain of the virus was found in birds in Romania and Turkey last week. It is not yet known if the Greek case is H5N1.

H5N1 has killed more than 60 people in South-East Asia since 2003.

Only one is suspected to have caught the virus from another person, rather than from a bird. There have been no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission.

Scientists have warned that the strain could cause a lethal pandemic if it mutates into a form that can be spread from person to person, but many stress the risk still remains low.

Steps taken

"Avian and pandemic influenza are global threats (which need) an international coordinated response," said the foreign ministers in a statement after their meeting.

Mr Kyprianou said he had briefed ministers on the latest developments of avian flu in Europe, but he stressed it "does not affect the possibility of a human influenza pandemic".

"We hope this will never happen. In any event we will prepare properly," said the health commissioner.


Bird flu

He added that there needed to be international action, particularly with the countries already affected, to tackle the "global threat". "We cannot protect ourselves alone," he said.

Before the meeting, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he hoped that the co-ordinated action being taken across the EU would allay public concerns.

"It's on issues like this that the EU comes into its own," he said.

"Without the resources of the European Union, the co-ordination and funds that the European Union can bring, Europe would face much greater anxieties about the potential effects of avian flu than are there now," he said.

Reports that European pharmacists were selling out of Tamiflu, an anti-viral drug thought to be effective against bird flu, prompted the WHO to warn against panic-buying.

Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong in 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Possible cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam, but none confirmed

Q&A: Avian flu

The organisation stressed that Tamiflu could reduce the effect of the illness but was not a vaccine to prevent it.

"WHO at this point does not advise for individuals to stockpile this drug for any purpose," said the WHO's pandemic alert chief Michael Ryan.

The WHO wants governments to stockpile Tamiflu, but fears a public run on the drug.

The manufacturer of Tamiflu, Swiss drugs company Roche, has said it would donate packs of the anti-influenza drug to Turkey and Romania, where the H5N1 virus has appeared, as well as to the WHO.

Roche has also announced it is willing to talk to governments and other drug firms about awarding special licences to boost production of Tamiflu.

Tests continue

In Greece, the agriculture ministry said a form of the bird flu virus had been found in a turkey on a farm on the Aegean Sea island of Oinouses.

Meanwhile in Romania, Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur says more swans have been found with suspected bird flu in the Danube delta area, where a number of birds were found to have the lethal H5N1 strain last week.

At this stage, none of the new outbreaks in Greece or Romania have been confirmed as the deadly strain H5N1.

However, tests are continuing, and the Greek outbreak is known to involve the H5 strain, of which the lethal form is a member.

The European Commission has also ordered urgent tests on dead birds found in Croatia and Bulgaria.

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