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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
NI bird flu measures 'advanced'
A dead bird is disposed of in Romania
Thousands of birds have already been culled in Turkey and Romania
Measures are in place to deal with any outbreak of avian flu among humans in Northern Ireland, according to the Department of Health.

It is currently stockpiling batches of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to treat a quarter of the NI population.

Dr Liz Mitchell of the department said: "Compared to other countries, we are well advanced in our planning."

EU veterinary officers are to hold an emergency meeting to discuss new measures to prevent bird flu spreading.

The talks follow the results of tests showing that the strain of the disease discovered in Turkey is the variant H5N1 that has infected - and killed - humans in the Far East.

Dr Mitchell said the Department of Health had "made a lot of preparations here for the potential emergence of a human pandemic of influenza".

"Obviously what we are talking about here in Turkey is bird influenza.

We only anticipate about a quarter of the population actually catching the flu - we don't anticipate the whole population going down with it
Dr Liz Mitchell
Department of Health

"While we are concerned about that - and our farming and veterinary colleagues are concerned about that - our major focus and worry is the situation in South East Asia, where there have been avian influenza outbreaks for a couple of years now.

"Along with the rest of the UK, we have been purchasing a stockpile of anti-viral medication - Tamiflu - to be enough to treat a quarter of our population should the pandemic emerge here.

"We have already had the first batches of our stockpile delivered in September and we anticipate getting further monthly batches of this until next December."

Pandemic strain

The stockpiles were based on what the department anticipated would be the likely percentage of the NI population which could be affected in a flu pandemic, she said.

"Priority would be given to those who are most vulnerable and those who are sickest.

"This would buy us time while a specific vaccine would be developed against the pandemic strain.

Jim Nicholson
If avian flu were to break out in Northern Ireland, it would spell disaster for the poultry industry, which is so vitally important to the province
Jim Nicholson
Ulster Unionist MEP

"We only anticipate about a quarter of the population actually catching the flu - we don't anticipate the whole population going down with it."

Moy Park - one of Europe's largest chicken processors - said it had advised its staff not to visit countries in South East Asia, Turkey and Romania.

The company has four plants in Northern Ireland.

If staff do visit countries where avian flu has been detected, they will have to spend a period away from work on their return.

This leave is unpaid. Moy Park said its policy was for the good of the company and in the interests of public health.

It said a similar decision had been taken with the outbreak of SARS - a respiratory virus which killed almost 800 people worldwide.

The European Commission has banned imports of live birds from both Turkey and Romania.

In both countries, the poultry that has been infected with bird flu has been close to sites favoured by migratory birds.

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

'Vitally important'

However, of those only one is suspected to have died after catching the virus from another human.

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said he was extremely concerned by the European Commission's confirmation of H5N1 in Turkey.

"In a meeting with Agriculture Minister Jeff Rooker this week, we discussed the department's contingency plans for dealing with an outbreak of bird flu in the UK."

He added: "If avian flu were to break out in Northern Ireland, it would spell disaster for the poultry industry, which is so vitally important to the province."

The SDLP's health spokesperson, Carmel Hanna, said both the British and Irish governments had questions to answer on their planned response to any outbreak.

"It is very important that our response should be co-ordinated throughout the island," she said.

"The only comparable experience is foot-and-mouth, where swift action to close ports and treat the island of Ireland as a unit in combating the threat proved highly effective."

Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald called for "an all-Ireland strategy" to deal with the threat.

"Given the seriousness of the situation the authorities north and south must act urgently and must act together," she said.

BIRD FLU OUTBREAKS IN 2005 (H5N1 STRAIN)
Map showing H5N1-affected areas
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




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See officials dealing with the outbreak in Turkey



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