Chief Hygiene Officer calls for vigilance in connection with bird flu cases in Turkey

Photo: CTK

Europe is on bird flu alert once again, as Turkey has reported 14 cases of bird flu in humans in recent days, including three deaths. As farmers continue slaughtering thousands of birds, international bird flu experts are investigating how quickly the strain is spreading. Although there is still no evidence that the disease has begun to pass between humans, the Czech Health Ministry says an emergency pandemic plan is ready.

Photo: CTK
According to World Health Organisation figures, the Turkish fatalities have brought the world total of confirmed bird flu deaths to 76 since 2003. The three cases, reported in Ankara, have brought the virus to the very doorstep of the European Union. Experts say there is no sign yet the virus has mutated into a form which could be transmitted from human to human, but if that does happen the race will start to develop new vaccines. The Czech Chief Hygiene Officer Michael Vit says the Czech Health Ministry has been negotiating with foreign laboratories.

"In the first phase of the existing pandemic plan, we would buy 2 million doses. Those will be for vulnerable people and people indispensable for the running of the state. We are holding talks about an increase of that number - ideally to cover 50 percent of the population. That is the minimal standard which would ensure the virus would not spread in the population. Stopping the virus from spreading does not necessarily require that the whole population be vaccinated."

Photo: CTK
Mr Vit says talks are being held with all five potential producers of bird flu vaccines, should some vaccines prove ineffective. The ministry has also increased the imports of antiviral drugs.

"Currently, we have 600,000 doses of antivirals and in the second half of this year we will obtain another 600,000. That ranks the Czech Republic among the top 8 countries in the European Union."

On Monday, the European Commission banned imports of untreated feathers from six countries close to or neighbouring Turkey to minimise the risk of bird flu spreading to Europe. The Czech Republic has not issued any official warning, but Chief Hygiene Officer Michael Vit says people should be vigilant.

"Of course, people should consider whether to travel to the affected areas in the first place. If they do they should avoid contact with poultry and birds or bird faeces. I would recommend staying away from poultry markets and farms. People should make sure they don't eat any poultry products unless they have been cooked at 70 degrees Celsius and, of course, observe basic hygiene rules."

Last year's bird flu alert increased the interest among Czechs in getting vaccinated against human flu. Although all the 760,000 vaccines against human flu imported in the Czech Republic last year were sold, only around eight percent of Czechs are vaccinated against human influenza. In Western Europe it is over 20 percent of the population.