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Germany

Bird Flu: What Are the Real Dangers?

German scientist Walter Haas is an expert on the flu and epidemiology. DW-RADIO spoke with him about the dangers of bird flu for Europeans.

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Turkey is dealing with its own outbreak of the bird flu

Walter Haas is head of the Unit for Respiratory Diseases and Immunization at the Department for Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Robert Koch Institute in Germany. He is the scientific coordinator of the German Working Group on Influenza and of the Expert Committee on Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Planning in Germany.

DW-WORLD: Bird flu has entered Europe -- and the threat is coming closer to Germany. How well is are people prepared for it?

Walter Haas: First, let me state clearly that this is still an animal disease even though there are now 14 suspected cases. Still the majority of cases are still in animals, and the vast majority result from direct contact with sick animals.

Is there any danger that the more people that become infected with this disease, the more easily it could mutate and spread to more people?

Well, of course, there is concern that this virus might change its way of distribution and spread at one point from human to human. So far, we have no indication that this has happened. However, one has to be very observant to be sure that there is no change. The vast distribution (of the disease) in more than 10 countries among animals, of course, gives the virus the chance to change and to try and adapt to other hosts including humans.


There has been criticism that the number of cases has been underestimated. Is this true?

I think the cooperation as far as our information goes between the Ministry of Health in Turkey, the World Health Organization and the EU has been very good. Of course, the number of cases that have been identified in the last few days result from the higher (level) of suspicion in the country. And, of course, a lot of people that are concerned are going to be examined and that will lead to identification of cases that might have gone undetected otherwise.

We know from other bacteria that even if they are frozen or cooked, they can survive these kind of extreme conditions. Is that true of this virus?

Well, it has been very clearly said that if the meat is well cooked, the virus will be destroyed at the same time. Of course, while preparing food, one has to be careful and observe rules of hygiene. This is not really a concern for European countries because there is an import (ban) from all countries where there is a suspicion of this disease.

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