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January 25, 2006
Europe prepares its defences against bird flu
 

"We are the best prepared region in the world but we still have much to do" - in other words vigilance is the watchword. This was the message given by Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, in a discussion with MEPs on Monday.

While the news from Thailand and Vietnam is broadly positive - no new cases have been identified in recent weeks - the major concern is now Turkey, where to date 25 confirmed cases of infected poultry have been identified spread over 15 provinces, with 89 suspected cases in 19 provinces, and above all 21 confirmed human cases in 9 provinces, including 4 deaths. The Commissioner, who was speaking at the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, announced that he was travelling to Turkey again this week to see how cooperation with the Turkish authorities might be improved, especially the exchange of information. He will be accompanied by experts who will stay in the country for longer to assess the situation. The Commission is also planning to use €8 million from the 2007 pre-accession fund to help fight bird flu in Turkey.

According to Mr Kyprianou, everything indicates that the virus is being spread by migrating birds: the outbreaks are concentrated along three well-known migration routes. However, it is also important to monitor trade. Imports of poultry and game from Turkey are banned, along with all imports of wild birds into EU territory. The Commission will propose that this ban be extended at least until the spring, when migrations end.

Are vaccines a good idea?

Should European poultry be vaccinated, as it is in China? Mr Kyprianou said the Commission was considering a possible change in strategy but there were two concerns: the high cost and the risk that vaccination might mask any infection.

Regarding human vaccines, the Commissioner emphasised the preventive value of traditional vaccines for people at risk, especially those who have contact with poultry in their work, for example to prevent them contracting ordinary flu and bird flu at the same time, since this might result in a combined virus which could be transmitted between humans. As to stocks of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, whose usefulness is disputed by some, Mr Kyprianou wished to stress its value, while acknowledging that it was not a panacea. He also confirmed that a British laboratory had detected a mutation of the avian influenza virus but there were so far no fears of it being transmitted between human beings.

Appeal to Member States

All Member States nowadays have action plans to deal with any outbreaks of animal diseases on EU territory. Even though tests have shown that information flows in the event of an alert could be improved, Mr Kyprianou assured MEPs that "nowadays everyone knows what they are supposed to do".

Even so, the situation regarding cooperation on vaccines seems less reassuring. The Commissioner was not pleased that he had only learnt via the press that a French laboratory was working on the development of a vaccine against the H5N1 virus. He also urged any Member States which have not yet done so to order traditional flu vaccines by the end of February, since after this point the pharmaceuticals industry will have to turn towards the manufacture in July of vaccines for the new strains of human flu due in the southern hemisphere. "The industry needs commitments from the Member States now", he stressed.

Source : noticias.info