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Europe

Countries Act on Bird Flu as EU Dithers

The German state of Bavaria took the initiative in the battle against bird flu Monday and banned poultry fairs and markets while the EU admitted it was struggling get to grip with the threat on its borders.

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If bird flu makes it across the border, will Europe be ready?

The German state of Bavaria on Monday banned poultry fairs and markets in a precautionary measure against bird flu, the state's interior ministry announced. Bavaria, one of the biggest of the country's 16 regional states, hopes to persuade other states to introduce similar measures.

The German government on Friday urged the regional states to take rapid steps to enclose flocks of poultry in regions where there is intensive farming of birds to protect them against a possible epidemic.

It appeared that the German government was putting some of the responsibility of containing a possible bird flu outbreak in the hands of the public as it became clear over the last few days that European countries were ill equipped with the necessary medicine to cope with a pandemic.

Drug shortage forces EU to issue stockpile order

Jose Manuel Barroso

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The European Commission voiced concern Monday about shortages of anti-viral drugs needed in case of a feared flu pandemic, pressing EU governments to stockpile more of them as alarm over bird flu mounts.

The European Union's executive arm, giving an update on the situation after a lethal bird flu strain was confirmed on the continent Saturday, also said it could take further measures to protect Europe against the disease if necessary.

"We are not seeking to be alarmist," said Philip Tod, spokesman for EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou. "We are fulfilling our duty to help member states prepare and to coordinate their preparations."

Specifically, he said a number of EU states do not have enough stocks of anti-viral drugs for human flu to cover 25 percent of the population -- as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the event of a pandemic.

Not all member states have "sufficient stocks"

Kyprianou "is concerned by the fact that not all member states have sufficient stocks. He calls on all member states to build up stocks," said Tod, while refusing to say how many or which countries have shortfalls.

Scientists confirmed on Saturday that Romania has the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu -- which has killed over 60 people in Asia -- two days after the killer virus was determined to be present in Turkey.

H5N1 Elektronen-Mikroskop-Aufnahme des Vogelgrippe-Erregers H5N1 Vogelgrippe Wissenschaft

The bird influenza virus strain H5N1--in gold -- in detail.

The big fear among experts is that H5N1 may mutate, acquiring genes from the human influenza virus that would make it highly infectious as well as lethal -- possibly killing millions worldwide as the influenza pandemic of 1918 did.

While the EU is keen not to spark panic, official calls for calm have not prevented a rush for anti-viral drugs and stocks in some countries are reported to be running short.

Virus has become resistant to flu drug

Fueling further concern, a study released Friday said researchers had identified a mutated form of H5N1 bird flu that is resistant to Tamiflu, the drug being stockpiled around the world to counter a feared pandemic.

Vogelgrippe Impfung in Indonesien

The fight to find a drug that combats bird flu goes on.

On Monday a group of flu experts called on the EU to fund development of prototype drugs against bird flu itself -- but warned that such research could cost more than 100 million euros ($120 million).

"EU should pay for development and clinical trials carried out by industry, because ... there is no market for a prototype," said Professor Albert Osterhaus of the European Scientific Working Group of Influenza, which groups centers such as France's Institut Pasteur and Germany's Robert Koch institute.

EU experts in 'hot zones' of Turkey, Romania

The EU commission meanwhile confirmed that EU experts sent to Turkey and Bulgaria were already working on the ground, in liaison with authorities from those countries. EU experts were already dispatched to Romania last week.

Erste Fälle von Vogelgrippe in Rumänien

EU experts are on the ground in Turkey and Romania.

The EU executive's spokesman also said it was sending, at the request of Turkey, some 700 protective suits for people working in the affected area in the northwest of the country.

EU veterinary experts have already approved a package of measures to bolster Europe's defenses against the virus, notably by ensuring that poultry do not come into contact with wild migratory birds which can carry it.

For the moment the EU says the measures it has already taken are enough to keep the lethal bird flu strain at bay. But "if the situation evolves and further measures are required the commission will immediately react," said the spokesman, declining to speculate on what such measures could be.

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