A view from a small town on the bird flu threat

Photo: CTK

The deadly H5N1 virus - bird flu - has made all the headlines in the Czech Republic in recent days and it is safe to say it is only a matter of time before a positive case is confirmed here. Every neighbouring country - the latest, Poland - has already found evidence. Czech poultry farmers as well as regular inhabitants are of course being informed on how to proceed in the event that bird flu is verified - but we wanted to get a sense of the mood outside of Prague.

Libcice is a small town found 20 kilometres north of Prague on the winding Vltava River. Lying in a small valley, it is a quiet area, full of scenic routes leading out along the river fit for any birdwatcher. By the river, too, are small weekend cottages - with pens from which chickens and roosters look out. People in Libcice may be concerned about the bird flu, but certainly it's not a panic yet.

Ilona Chrtova is Libcice's mayor:

"People aren't uneasy, but of course we're taking the situation seriously. It's important to be prepared: we've already received information on steps to take and we're making available all information. For instance, a couple of weeks ago locals found the remains of a wild duck on the shore, so we immediately contacted the regional veterinarian authority. They came, took away the specimen, and disinfected the area. Fortunately, the news came back that the bird had tested negative: there was no flu."

Photo: CTK
By the same token, Mayor Chrtova admits, it is only a matter of time before a case of the H5N1 virus in the Czech Republic is uncovered. In a manner of speaking, the country is now surrounded by cases from all sides, and some specialists have said that H5N1 is probably already in Czech territory. It just hasn't yet been found.

"Of course I understand that it's only a matter of time - it has been found everywhere else - so it is more than probable we'll soon see a case: that's what all the veterinarians I've spoken to have said. When a case shows up, we'll have to see what new instructions we'll be given then."

Currently, the Agriculture Ministry is weighing whether or not to distribute pamphlets to all households, informing the public on how to proceed in the case of new developments, but some don't think it's necessary. Jana Mobiusova is a Libcice resident, who runs a local variety store:

"I think that the information is readily available either through the papers, or TV, or on the Internet, I don't know if a pamphlet is necessary. The people who need to know can find out. As far as I know most people around here do have a few chickens and a rooster - we also have some hens at our cottage by the river. For now, they're free to move around in their pen, but if further restrictions come, we will of course make it so that nothing and no one can get to them."

Down by the Vltava, awaiting the train to take me back to Prague: I stare at chickens in a pen near the river, and look at the wild fowl flying nearby. People are saying they're not overly concerned, not yet. But it is evident bird flu, to some degree, is on many locals' minds. Two women on one of Libcice's streets tell me "the main thing is to follow the guidelines: to thoroughly cook meat and uphold proper hygienic conditions."

And, they both stress: "You have to be a little bit concerned, yes."