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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
EU urges global bird flu response
Kosovo Albanian with his poultry at a market in Pristina
Bird flu cases are alarming Europe's poultry farmers
A bird flu pandemic is a global threat needing a co-ordinated international response, EU foreign ministers say.

They issued a statement following a meeting that came hours after Greece became the first member of the bloc to confirm a case of bird flu.

But EU health chief Markos Kyprianou stressed the presence of bird flu in Europe did not mean there would be a human influenza pandemic.

The World Health Organization has urged people not to panic-buy anti-flu drugs.

The deadly H5N1 strain of the virus was found in birds in Romania and Turkey last week. It is not yet known if the Greek case is H5N1.

Macedonia has also sent samples from a chicken, suspected to have died of the same strain, to Britain for further testing.

H5N1 has killed more than 60 people in South-East Asia since 2003.

Only one is suspected to have caught the virus from another person, rather than from a bird. There have been no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission.

Scientists have warned that the strain could cause a lethal pandemic if it mutates into a form that can be spread from person to person, but many stress the risk still remains low.

Steps taken

"Avian and pandemic influenza are global threats (which need) an international coordinated response," the foreign ministers said in a statement after their meeting.

Mr Kyprianou said he had briefed ministers on the latest developments of avian flu in Europe, but he stressed it "does not affect the possibility of a human influenza pandemic".


"We hope this will never happen. In any event we will prepare properly," the health commissioner said.

But he also said the EU cannot protect itself alone. "There is a need for international action and international solidarity with countries in Asia," he said.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he hoped that the co-ordinated action being taken across the EU would allay public concerns.

Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong in 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Possible cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam, but none confirmed

"We want to reassure people across Europe about this - we are working together as closely as we can," said Mr Straw, who chaired the meeting.

Mr Kyprianou has urged EU governments to stock up on the anti-viral drug Tamiflu, believed to be the most effective weapon against bird flu.

But reports that European pharmacists are selling out of the drug has prompted the WHO to urge members of the public not to panic-buy.

"WHO at this point does not advise for individuals to stockpile this drug for any purpose," said the WHO's pandemic alert chief Michael Ryan.

Tests continue

In Greece, the agriculture ministry said on Monday a form of the bird flu virus had been found in a turkey on a farm on the Aegean Sea island of Oinouses.

The outbreak is known to involve the H5 strain, but further tests are being carried out to see if it contains the lethal member strain H5N1.

Romania is also awaiting the outcome of tests on further cases of suspected bird flu found in the Danube delta area.

Urgent tests are being carried out on dead birds found in Croatia and Bulgaria, as well as in Macedonia.

The H5N1 strain remained largely in South-East Asia until this summer, when Russia and Kazakhstan both reported outbreaks
Scientists fear it may be carried by migrating birds to Europe and Africa but say it is hard to prove a direct link with bird migration

See the migrating birds which could be spreading the virus

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