The German government has announced that it would spend 60 million euros ($73 million) on bird flu research in the next four years in the hope of developing a vaccine for humans soon.
Experts say the number of infected birds is still relatively low
"This would allow us to vaccinate the population before the virus mutates," Health Minister Ulla Schmidt told a press briefing.
Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer said researchers would also study the transmission of avian influenza from animals to humans and seek to develop a rapid test for the feared H5N1 strain of the virus.
Gaps i n k n owledge
Wild swans infected by the H5N1 strain were found on Rügen
The strain was first detected in Germany in February among wild birds on the Baltic Sea Island of Rügen but rapidly affected six regions and for the first time in the European Union infected mammals.
"There are considerable gaps in our knowledge," Seehofer said. "The outbreak of bird flu (in Germany) needs to be investigated."
Federal Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan also announced that an extra 20 million euros would be earmarked by her ministry for international collaboration on research into diseases that can be passed from animals to humans would be stepped up -- including BSE as well as bird flu.
Available by 2007?
The discovery of bird flu in a cat showed that H5N1 can infect mammals
Three cats and a stone marten were found to have the bird flu disease, prompting concern that it could spread to humans more easily, although World Health Organization experts said this seemed unlikely.
The president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's main center for the study of infectious diseases in humans, on Wednesday said it was unclear when a vaccine would be available.
"We cannot say when it will be on the market," Reinhard Kurth said. "Those who are very optimistic are saying at the end of 2007."
The ultimate ambition of the government program is to develop a broad-spectrum vaccine which, unlike others, would not be required to recognize a mutated virus in order to protect against it.
"Ideally, this would cover all variations on the bird flu virus," Kurth said.