October 24, 2005

WHO sees good chance of Europe resisting bird flu

By Karin Lundback

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Europe stands a good chance of
preventing the deadly strain of bird flu from reaching its tame
bird population, a World Health Organization official from
Asia, where the disease first emerged, said on Monday.

"There is an excellent chance for Europe to contain the
Asian flu," Shigeru Omi, WHO director of the western Pacific
region, told reporters at a conference in Copenhagen.

Compared with Asia, where more than 60 people have died
from the deadly H5N1 influenza transmitted via birds, Omi said
Europe had reacted with much more speed and transparency.

The H5N1 virus has been found among birds in Romania,
Turkey and Russia but no human cases have been reported in

Though cases of migratory birds passing on the virus to
poultry in Europe could not be ruled out, Omi did not think the
disease would take on widespread proportions.

Lack of information and poor hygiene in backyard poultry
farms had spread the virus among birds in Asia, he said. A lack
of compensation for culled birds had also stopped poor farmers
from reporting outbreaks of bird flu, the WHO official added.

"In Asia, opportunities to intervene were lost, giving the
virus the possibility to entrench the region," he said.

The WHO, the European Commission and other agencies are
holding a three-day workshop in Denmark to discuss Europe's
defense against a possible influenza pandemic.


Fernand Sauer, director of public health and risk
assessment at the European Union's executive, the European
Commission, said confusion between different types of influenza
was to blame for an exaggerated fear in Europe about the risk
of catching the H5N1 virus.

Asked if the fears of bird flu had turned into hysteria he
said: "Yes, but it is because of the misunderstanding between
avian influenza, seasonal flu -- which will come in December --
and pandemic flu, which comes historically from time to time."

Sauer said the meeting would, among other issues, discuss a
call from the European Commission to develop research into
protective masks.

"People are very much concentrating on very sophisticated
tools, whereas masks are also a very important component,
especially for those countries outside the EU as they are cheap
and readily available," he said.

Sauer said masks also had a social value as people who wear
them become more aware of other precautionary measures such as
frequent hand washing with soap or detergents.

"It is now time to look into the problem," he said, adding
that there was no immediate need for people to wear masks.
"It's the same with masks as with vaccines and anti-viral
drugs, they should not be used without clear directions from