Bird flu is continuing to gain ground as it speads west into Europe. On the Rumanian frontier the authorities are doing their best to disinfect anything rolling across the border that might help the virus move.
However it is impossible to stop it taking wing along with its hosts, with new outbreaks being reported almost by the hour. In this climate the EU’s foreign ministers have met to upgrade measures to fight the disease. They insist thatit is too early to sound the alarm bells, and no-one should panic, as while the virus is ravaging the bird populations, it has yet to be caught by a European. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said our defences against any human influenza pandemic are far better than in the past: “We have not reached the level of preparedness that we should have. Nevertherless we have to…because I know that the comparisons with the Spanish flu in the early 20th century. I think it would be risky to draw comparisons,we have different healthcare services, different capacity, different levels of doctors, of medicine, antibiotics, all that, so we have other defences as well, it’s not just the anti-virals”. The minister’s main worry is that stocks of a key flu-busting drug are low and cannot provide full cover if a pandemic breaks out. It can lessen the effects only, and does not provide protection. A vaccine is expected for next year at the very earliest. From its birthplace in the far east bird flu has inexorably crept westwards, and the frontline is now the Balkans. Bird’s seasonal migration south has not yet begun, but flocks are concentrating around Europe to feed before their long journeys, increasing the risks if the virus hits them, which the experts say is inevitable.