July 21, 2006

EU agency backs first avian flu vaccines for birds

LONDON (Reuters) - European regulators have given a green
light to the first two avian influenza vaccines for use in
birds, the European Medicines Agency said on Friday.

The decision means vaccines will be available to control
avian flu in chickens and ducks in the high-risk autumn and
winter 2006 period.

Both vaccines -- from Intervet, a unit of Akzo Nobel, and
Fort Dodge Animal Health, part of Wyeth -- reduce mortality and
virus excretion in vaccinated birds exposed to infection.

The agency's expert veterinary committee said they should
only be used in disease control campaigns carried out by
government-appointed authorities, adding that their use would
be reviewed annually.

"Authorization of these products provides assurance to
national authorities of the quality of the vaccines should
vaccination be used as a measure to control avian influenza in
birds," the agency said in a statement.

The decision on whether or not to use the vaccines will be
made by national governments in consultation with the European

The virus strains present in the vaccines are H5N2 and
H5N3, respectively, which the agency said had been selected to
protect birds against exposure to virulent H5N1 field strains.

Effective control of avian flu in birds is considered
important not only for animal health but also to reduce the
risk of a human pandemic flu strain sparked by the virus.

The H5N1 avian flu virus has spread among birds across
Asia, Europe and Africa.

So far, it is relatively hard for people to catch, but it
has killed more than 130 around the world who have come into
close contact with infected birds.

Scientists, however, fear H5N1 will mutate into a strain
that spreads easily between humans, sparking a pandemic in
which millions of people could die.