Don't panic over bird flu spread, urges WHO

Don’t panic over bird flu spread, urges WHO

The World Health Organization is downplaying the risk of bird flu spreading to humans. However, European countries are stocking up on anti-viral drugs after a deadly strain of the disease was detected in Turkey.

European Union experts held an emergency meeting Friday to discuss measures for containing the spread of the dangerous H5N1 flu strain.

It has already been detected in Turkey and test results should be available Saturday on whether it has been found in Romania.

The WHO said there was a high probability that the virus found in Romania was the H5N1 strain.

In Turkey, the strain was detected after 1,800 turkeys died on a farm in Kiziksa, about 130 kilometres southwest of Istanbul. The Turkish government said it has contained the outbreak.

Imports of live birds and poultry from both countries have been banned by the European Commission. The EU experts meeting Friday will also discuss the risks posed by migratory birds.

The EU’s Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, is proposing one billion euros be set aside to help make and distribute anti-viral drugs and vaccines in case of a pandemic.

The WHO said it was concerned about the potential spread of bird flu, but said the risk of its transmission to humans was low.

“People confuse it with pandemic influenza, but they’re very different diseases,” WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said.

“If people just paid attention to the human risk” from bird flu, they’d understand that “the possibility of infection is very low.”

No human cases of the disease have been detected in Europe. Bird flu has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003, most of them poultry farmers who had close contact with their birds.

Health experts fear that if H5N1 mutates and acquires the ability to spread easily from person to person, it could kill as many as 7 million people.

Despite the fact that Europeans tend to have less close contact with poultry than in parts of Asia, there has been a great deal of public concern.

In Serbia, thousands of people have bought face masks, and throughout Europe pharmacies and hospitals have been inundated with requests for anti-viral drugs.

B-man :wink: