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EU medical chief says Europe ready for bird flu

Europe is ready to deal with a nearly certain outbreak of a bird flu pandemic among humans within the next 10 years, says a top EU medical expert.//

Professor Johan Giesecke of the European Centre for Disease Protection and Control (ECDC) was speaking after chief veterinary and medical officers of the 25 EU nations met to discuss protecting European workers in contact with poultry.

'It might not happen tomorrow, or in the next few years, but it is certain that there will be a bird flu pandemic which will affect humans within the next 10 years, he said.

'The stakes are high. A pandemic could see 25 percent of Europe's workforce out of work sick, and put enormous strain on Europe's healthcare infrastructure. People need to wake up now.' he said.

The ECDC, set up in May to pool expertise and help coordinate the EU's national public health authorities, also recommends that children who come in to contact with infected birds receive reduced doses of antiviral medicine according to their weight.

Since October, four outbreaks in Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Ukraine have been confirmed as the H5N1 strain, which has killed 69 people in Asia.

Scientists fear H5N1 risks causing a pandemic in which millions could die if it mutates into a form that spreads easily among humans. But there is no sign so far that the virus has changed in that way.

Meanwhile, European countries' chief medical and veterinary officers endorsed guidelines to protect poultry workers from avian flu. These guidelines provide European governments with appropriate surveillance measures in carrying out local risk assessment and controlling infection of birds.

Contact with infected birds should be minimized and people should be separated from possible sources of infection.

The guidelines recommended use of protective equipment such as disposable gloves, masks, goggles or helmets when dealing with susp
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