Greece Confirms First
Case Of Bird Flu In EU

By Philippe Naughton
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 Thursday.
"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 said.
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 anti-virals."
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 a pandemic.
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 question".
He agreed that a human pandemic was unlikely to come this winter as the virus would first have to undergo "a number of stages".
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.",,8122-1829988,00.html



This Site Served by TheHostPros