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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 19:37 GMT 20:37 UK
Public urged to be calm over flu
Chickens
Bird flu has spread from South East Asia to Europe
People should not panic after the discovery of a deadly form of avian flu among birds in Turkey, the UK government has said.

The Department of Health stressed its advice on who should be vaccinated against flu was unchanged.

It urged vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and some children, to have the seasonal flu jab as normal.

EU veterinary officers have agreed a package of measures aimed at stopping the virus entering member states.

I don't think, at this stage, the public should feel they are under a different threat than before
Dr David Salisbury, Head of Immunisation at the Department of Health

People in the UK with weak immune systems, such as children with asthma or diabetes, have long been advised to have an annual jab to protect them against flu.

Since the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed 60 people in South East Asia, was confirmed in birds in Turkey on Thursday, concern has risen about the UK's plans to contain any outbreak here.

News of the outbreak in north-west Turkey came after avian flu was also confirmed in ducks in Romania. The EU said those cases were assumed to be the same strain.

Samples of the dead birds were sent from Turkey and Romania to the UK for laboratory analysis.

Preparations

David Salisbury, head of immunisation at the Department of Health, told BBC News that people in identified groups, including the elderly, children with conditions such as diabetes or asthma and others who had weakened immune systems should get the seasonal flu vaccination as normal.

But he added: "The currently available vaccine is for people vulnerable to flu, but will not protect them against an emerging pandemic strain."

The government orders around 14 million doses of flu vaccine for the annual vaccination campaign again seasonal influenza.

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However, Dr Salisbury said experts were planning for the eventuality of bird flu mutating to spread between humans.

"The risk is very real, we're very aware of what's happening in south-east Asia and are monitoring very carefully the spread of disease amongst birds.

"We're watching very carefully for cases in humans and the presence of bird disease in Europe of course raises everybody's anxieties."

Dr Salisbury said the UK public should not feel the dangers from bird flu had increased, following the emergence of bird flu in Turkey.

"I don't think, at this stage, the public should feel they are under a different threat than before."

But he said the developments in Turkey would be considered in UK preparations.

He said developing a vaccine would take three to five months, and could only be undertaken once the strain of any virus causing a pandemic was identified.

This time delay was the reason the UK was stockpiling antiviral drugs to treat symptoms if they emerged, Dr Salisbury said.

Poultry industry concerns

The government has ordered 14.6m doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

This would be enough for 25% of the population - the proportion the World Health Organization predicts would be affected in a pandemic.

"Normal" flu affects 5 -10% of the population.

Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the UK was not completely ready for the effects of a human flu outbreak.

He added: "The government has done too little, too late, to protect the health of the population if an outbreak is imminent."

He said the country was behind some countries in the queue for anti-viral drugs from pharmaceutical companies.

BBC correspondent Jill Higgins said if there was a pandemic, UK officials would start health screening at UK ports to help keep infections out.

"They'd consider closing schools around the country and they'd set restrictions on public gatherings to make it as difficult as possible for the virus to spread", she said.

Sales 'damage'

The UK government said plans were also in place to contain the spread of avian flu among wild and domestic birds.

However, the National Farmers' Union has expressed concern that public fears over the virus could damage chicken and poultry sales - even though the virus cannot be passed on through eating chicken.

The EU veterinary officers meeting in Brussels agreed measures which focused on "strengthening bio-security measures on farms and introducing early detection systems in high risk areas".

A separate EU meeting of bird flu experts is expected to issue advice on the potential risk for humans who come into contact with migratory birds.

EU foreign ministers are to hold emergency talks on the bird flu threat on Tuesday when they meet in Luxembourg for WTO negotiations




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A government expert discusses fears over bird flu




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