Bird Flu Alarm

2005-12-14-Europe only ready by 2007

Understanding Avian Influenza

2005-12-14-Europe only ready by 2007

Stockholm - Europe should be prepared to face a flu pandemic by 2007, the European Union agency tasked with boosting defences against infectious diseases said on Wednesday amid growing fears of a deadly bird flu outbreak on the continent.

"I think in one year's time we'll be more or less ready," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the director of the Stockholm-based Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Speaking at a news conference marking the one year anniversary of the creation of the ECDC, Jakab said the centre over the past 12 months had "made a major step forward" in mapping national preparedness plans and determining who is responsible for what.

Today, "we know where our weaknesses lie (and) it is very clear what the national governments are expected to do", she said.

Europe fears bird flu outbreak

Her comments came as Romania reported that several dozen new cases of a bird flu virus had been confirmed in the country, sparking new fears that Europe could soon face a massive outbreak of the virus in humans.

The deadly H5N1 strain of the virus has so far killed nearly 70 people across Asia who have come in contact with sick birds, and if the virus mutates to transmit between humans it could kill millions, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

European Commission director of public health Fernand Sauer on Wednesday agreed that Europe would soon be prepared to face a flu pandemic.

"Over the next couple of months, I think Europe will be much better off than any other continent to face a pandemic," he said at the Stockholm news conference.

"We are in a time of 'peace', and in a time of peace we have to prepare ... to mitigate the effects" of a pandemic, he said.

Preventatitive measures

"At the end of 2007, potentially we could cover between 20% and 25% of the European population ... If (a pandemic) happens next week, there will be a shortage (of vaccines) but if it happens in 2007, there will probably be enough," he added.

Over coming months, the European Commission will look into creating a "European strategic stock" of vaccines to supplement the national supplies and attempt to shorten vaccine production times.

It will also ask the ECDC to think about providing people across the continent with masks as a simple preventive measure, Sauer said.

Understanding Avian Influenza