Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-24-EU to Launch Awareness Campaign on Bird Flu

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-24-EU to Launch Awareness Campaign on Bird Flu

European health ministers agreed at a meeting in Vienna to develop a joint communication strategy in order to prevent unnecessary confusion and panic over the spread of avian influenza.

In order to stem fears over the H5N1 virus as bird flu spreads across the continent, EU health ministers agreed on Friday to launch a public awareness campaign.

Health Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat of Austria, the country currently holding the rotating EU presidency, made the announcement after a meeting of ministers and other representatives of the bloc's 25 nations plus Turkey and the Balkan states.

"We want to prevent a feeling of uncertainty and panic from spreading," she told reporters.

Avoiding confusion

EU officials will meet next month to define a clear and transparent communication strategy.

Different situations in the EU have led to varying media coverage creating a certain confusion," EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has so far affected eight EU countries -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia. It has also been found in Turkey -- where four people have died -- as well as Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.

Before the meeting in Vienna started, Rauch-Kallat said the increasing number of H5N1 infections "calls for special attention and a need to coordinate."

"We must speak a common language in order to avoid contradictory messages. The information must be the same, wherever it comes from" in Europe.

Learn to live with it

The bird flu virus cannot be eradicated in wild birds and is likely to be around for some time, Kyprianou said on Friday in Vienna.

"We have to be realistic, it's a problem that will stay for some time in the future," Kyprianou told reporters after the health ministers' meeting.

The main concern in the EU remains preventing the spread of the disease among poultry. Kyprianou said he was confident that the EU had the necessary know-how to deal with the issue.

No reason for panic

With the arrival of spring, birds are taking different migration routes, increasing the risk that the disease will spread.

"There is reason for alert, not alarm. There's no reason for panic but we need to take all necessary preventive measures," Kyprianou said.

Understanding Avian Influenza