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Europe - Agency [ECDC] warns of higher risks of bird flu

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  • Europe - Agency [ECDC] warns of higher risks of bird flu

    Agency warns of higher risks of bird flu
    By Andrew Jack in London
    Published: May 31 2006 17:49 | Last updated: May 31 2006 17:49

    Europe?s disease control agency will on Thursday warn governments to accelerate their preparations for a flu pandemic in the face of an increased risk the bird flu virus could mutate into a form more dangerous to humans in the near future.

    In its latest public health risk report, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) will say there are ?many good reasons ... to continue and intensify? preparations, including boosting co-operation among countries and between health, agriculture and other government departments within each nation.

    Chief of these reasons is the spread of the virus since January into a broad range of birds, including migratory species that travel widely.

    As a result, Europe must adjust to the likelihood of H5N1 becoming endemic in birds, warns the ECDC.

    The cautiously worded document from the agency, created last year to monitor the spread of disease in the European Union, concludes: ?The likelihood that [the H5N1 virus] might achieve any inherent potential in the near future may have risen.?

    It stresses there are no current indications that the behaviour of the flu virus in humans has changed significantly. But it says the spread this year of H5N1 into animals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa increases the likelihood of human exposure and mutation or recombination of the virus.

    The report comes after the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday it saw no need to escalate its pandemic alert level, as its investigations intensified into a cluster of infections in Sumatra in Indonesia that killed seven people this month.

    The WHO said there were no signs of significant genetic mutation in the virus that it has studied in four of the Sumatra victims.

    It said there was no spread of H5N1 from the cluster, although it has given the antiviral drug Tamiflu as a prophylaxis to 54 people.

    A further six cases confirmed elsewhere in Indonesia in recent days have brought the worldwide total of infections to 224, and deaths to 127.

    ?H5N1 has become far more prevalent and, if it stays in its present form, we are going to have to learn to live with it in Europe,? said Angus Nicholl from the ECDC.

    At a Europe-wide conference in Sweden earlier this month, the agency pledged to complete its assessment of all national preparation plans by July 2007.

    It also promised to draw up indicators to assess progress, accelerate the take-up of seasonal flu vaccine, and strengthen international support to combat the virus, especially in Africa.

    ...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. - Sherlock Holmes