London’s Heathrow Airport is at the front-line of the battle to keep bird flu out of Britain. Customs teams there are using sniffer dogs to check luggage on incoming flights from Turkey and Romania – countries where the deadly H5N1 strain has been detected.
While no passports are required for cross-border travellers of the feathered variety, migrating birds can also be closely monitored for signs of illness.
On a westward journey, bird flu has now penetrated the European Union, although it remains unclear whether the form found on a tiny Greek island is H5N1.
European Union Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou has called on member states to stock up on anti-viral drugs.
“We have not reached the level of preparedness that we should have,” he said.
At an emergency meeeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers urged global co-operation. They also moved to reassure the public.
Yet, experts say it is only a matter of time before H5N1 bird flu changes enough to make it a disease that transmits easily from human to human.
If that happens, across the planet, millions of people could die.
Amid such fears, pressure has been piling on Swiss drugmaker Roche to increase the output of Tamiflu, the most effective anti-viral drug currently available for avian influenza.
It now says it will consider allowing companies and governments in developing nations to produce the drug, in preparation for a feared bird flu pandemic.