France earmarks money for bird flu prevention

17th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 16 (AFP) - France has set aside EUR 200 million for the prevention of bird flu in 2005 and will increase the sum if necessary next year, finance minister Thierry Breton said Sunday.

PARIS, Oct 16 (AFP) - France has set aside EUR 200 million for the prevention of bird flu in 2005 and will increase the sum if necessary next year, finance minister Thierry Breton said Sunday.

"We have to guard ourselves, protect ourselves in case we see, as is not yet the case today, this animal disease spreading in Europe," Breton said on radio and television. "We have put some very important means in place for this and we are working on prevention."

Countries in the Danube delta region on Sunday scrambled to prevent the spread of lethal bird flu deeper into Europe, as Britain's chief medical officer warned there was no way to avoid a flu pandemic.

With that gruesome news Romanian authorities stepped up the slaughtering of poultry.

"It seems that some villagers are still trying to hide birds in the hope of preserving them, but those are isolated cases," a representative of the Romanian veterinary health agency told AFP.

British scientists on Saturday formally identified the strain of flu virus detected in Romania as H5N1, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.

Breton attempted to calm fears about the spread of bird flu, adding that he had eaten chicken for lunch on a plane returning from a G20 meeting of finance ministers in Beijing, China.

Breton pointed out that cooking chicken at a temperature above 70C destroys the virus.

Yet the growing threat of bird flu spreading across Europe was set to top the agendas of EU leaders this week.

The deadly avian influenza virus found in Turkey and Romania is bound to combine with a human variety at some point and cause a pandemic, or global outbreak that would kill around 50,000 people in Britain, the country's chief medical officer warned Sunday.

"The significance of it isn't that there will be a pandemic of bird flu itself, the significance of it is that at some point, and we go by the lessons of history, the bird flu virus will combine with a human flu virus and then it will become easily transmissible," Liam Donaldson told BBC television.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the outbreak at emergency talks in Luxembourg on Tuesday, while bird flu will dominate the agenda of a meeting of health ministers later in the week.

On Wednesday, health commissioner Markos Kyprianou will present a pandemic simulation exercise aimed at testing the preparedness of the bloc's 25 members for such an outbreak.

Countries in the Danube delta have begun working on a coordinated response to the threat, Romanian officials said.

The Danube delta is one of Europe's biggest bird reserves and is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

The World Health Organization voiced concern at the Romanian outbreak and admitted that the risk of bird-to-human transfer had increased.

"The presence of this virus in Romania worries us, because it proves that it is in the birds' environment, and that increases the possibility of transmission to humans," said a spokesman.

British health official Donaldson said a normal winter flu killed more than 12,000 people in Britain annually.

"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 be 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," said Donaldson.

Donaldson however stressed that the pandemic was less likely to occur in Europe this winter.

"The attention is focused in Europe because of these outbreaks. That doesn't mean that the pandemic flu is creeping closer to the UK, it simply means that bird flu is occurring in other parts of the world, as it has over the last five to six years.

"I think the likelihood is still that we will see the epicentre of this pandemic of flu, this mutation, in the Far East," Donaldson said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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