The spread of birdflu and the looming risk of a world pandemic predicted by health experts have contributed to creating a climate of fear and confusion in Europe.
To get a clearer picture, EuroNews spoke to virus expert Patrick Goubau from Louvain-la-Neuve University in Belgium.
Patrick Goubau: “Let’s remember there have only been around 60 deaths related to bird flu worldwide over the past three years, whereas some 1,500 people die of seasonal flu each year in a small country like Belgium. Can the virus lead to a pandemic? Maybe, but that’s not certain. Of course, the first thing we must do is control the virus in the bird population. Otherwise, there will continue to be cases of animal-to-human infections, and it’s possible that a combination of bird flu and other strains of human flu could enhance the chances of transmission to humans. But another possibility is that a pandemic could come from a completely different and unexpected source.”
EuroNews: “The inhabitants of Cearmulia in Romania where bird flu was found have all been vaccinated against seasonal flu. But what should be done elsewhere? Who should be vaccinated?”
PG: “Those who suffer from heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, or people over the age of 60 or 65, must be vaccinated, along with those who are in contact with them. People working in hospitals, particularly those who work with elderly people, should also be vaccinated. We can’t recommend that everyone be vaccinated in Western Europe, particularly since there haven’t been any cases of birdflu here yet. There simply aren’t enough drugs. If we do that, risk running out of medication, which would mean people who need the vaccine couldn’t get it.” EN: “The European Commission has called on EU members to get prepared and to stock up on antiviral drugs. How efficient is this kind of policy?”
PG: “If each country started stocking up on drugs, that would mean huge piles of medication which would pass its sell-by date after five years, and would have to be thrown out. On the other hand, European countries could agree between themselves on sharing stocks and giving drugs to the countries which who most need them. But of course, for this to work, you need to have agreements between countries, and mutual trust so that each country doesn’t break the rules as soon as a pandemic breaks out.”