- Bird flu was confirmed inside the borders of the European
Union today when Greece said that at least one case had been detected on
an island in the Aegean.
- The Agriculture Ministry said the H5 virus had been detected
on a turkey on the island of Chios. It was not yet clear whether the bird
was infected by the H5N1 sub-strain, which has claimed at least 60 human
lives in Asia.
- Chios is in the eastern Aegean, only a couple of miles
at its closest point from western Turkey, where an outbreak of bird flu
at a turkey farm, confirmed as H5N1, has brought a major cull. The virus
has also been found in wildfowl in Romania's Danube delta.
- News of the outbreak in Greece came as Patricia Hewitt,
the Health Secretary, told the Commons that the Government was taking the
prospect of a bird flu pandemic - if it crosses across into humans - "very
seriously" and its latest contingency plans would be published on
- "As the chief medical officer has stated, most experts
believe it is not question of whether there will be another severe influenza
pandemic, but when," she said. "We take this threat very seriously.
The Government has been taking increasing action, particularly over the
last 12 months, to prepare."
- Ms Hewitt said that a flu pandemic could affect a quarter
of the population, adding: "We estimate there could be at least 50,000
deaths as a result of the pandemic, compared to around 12,000 flu-related
deaths every year, and it could be significantly more."
- A team of British experts in infectious diseases are
to visit South-East Asia, where millions of birds have been slaughtered,
to investigate first-hand how best to tackle a deadly bird flu pandemic.
The fact-finding mission from the Medical Research Council will visit Vietnam,
China and Hong Kong,.
- And officials in Croatia said today that the country
had started testing dead birds found by citizens for possible avian flu,
although no cases had yet been confirmed. The former Yugoslav republic
is on a key migratory route linking the Russian Far East and northern Europe,
where millions of birds overwinter after leaving Siberia.
- "Until recently, people simply did not notice dead
birds but now they see them everywhere and immediately call the police,"
a Croatian agriculture ministry official told Reuters, commenting on a
newspaper report that ten dead starlings found near Zagreb were sent to
a veterinary institute for testing.
- "We react promptly to every report, take samples
and analyse them, but so far nothing has been found. People are really
overreacting, but we are taking all precautionary measures," the official
- And staff at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge,
Gloucestershire, have started testing some 2,000 birds to make sure that
none of their resident flocks of geese and ducks are carrying avian flu.
Thousands of migratory swans and geese will be arriving at the centre over
the next few weeks.
- The Government's chief medical officer warned that at
least 50,000 Britons could be killed if the disease takes hold among the
human population. If the virus mutates into an aggressive strain, as many
as 750,000 could die.
- Sir Liam Donaldson told the BBC's Sunday AM programme
that a bird flu pandemic could kill 50,000 people in Britain, but it was
not likely to happen this winter. He said more than 12,000 people died
annually with the normal winter flu.
- "But if we had a pandemic, the problem would be
that our existing vaccines don't work against it, we would have to develop
a new vaccine, and people don't have natural immunity because it hasn't
been around before.
- "So the estimate we are working to in the number
of deaths is around 50,000 excess deaths from flu. But it could be a lot
higher than that, it very much depends whether this mutated strain is a
mild one or a more serious one."
- Sir Liam said there was a "natural cycle" in
which every 10 to 40 years the flu virus mutated into something for which
there was no natural immunity and it was a question of "when not if".
The chief medical officer is due to announce an update to Government contingency
plans for bird flu on Thursday.
- The Government has ordered 14 million doses of Tamiflu,
an anti-viral drug that limits the spread of the virus in the body but
is not a cure. However, it has only amassed 2.5 million so far and is receiving
them at the rate of 800,000 a month. The full amount will not have been
delivered for another year.
- Ms Hewitt said: "As far as anti-virals are concerned
we are one of the best prepared countries in the world when it comes to
ordering and stockpiling anti-virals which will not of course prevent someone
getting pandemic flu but will undoubtedly help to moderate its severity
and therefore save lives.
- "We already have enough anti-virals in stock to
treat health care workers who may be affected. Depending on the time at
which the pandemic takes place and depending on the severity of that pandemic
we may need to take further steps to prioritise the availability of these
- Sir Liam said a "comprehensive plan" was in
place to limit the impact of any pandemic, which would include the development
of a vaccine and the deployment of the anti-viral drugs. An effective vaccine
cannot be manufactured yet because a mutant strain of bird flu passing
between humans has not yet been seen.
- Officials said this weekend that farmers have been given
expanded bio-security and risk assessment advice on the threat of the bird
flu while GPs have also been given advice on what to do in the event of
- Dr Martin Wiselka, consultant in infectious diseases
at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said that while bird flu would be devastating
for poultry farmers, whether it could jump the species barrier was an "unanswered
- He agreed that a human pandemic was unlikely to come
this winter as the virus would first have to undergo "a number of
- First there would have to be a bird epidemic, then it
would have to transmit to humans and then it would have to mutate to transmit
human to human. There was also no way of telling how virulent any mutant
strain would be.
- "It might never happen. Secondly, if it does happen
it might happen over two years. There are a lot of uncertainties. If I
were a betting man I'd say we'll probably be all right."