- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006


BRUSSELS — European Union experts announced last week that the 25-nation EU is “reasonably well-prepared” for a massive outbreak of bird flu infecting humans after a simulation exercise to test the bloc’s readiness.

“The EU is reasonably-well prepared for a pandemic,” John Simpson, the head of emergency preparedness at Britain’s Health Protection Agency, said Thursday, adding that “a lot of work has been done” recently.

Philip Tod, the European Commission spokesman for health issues, agreed there has been “tremendous improvement since the beginning of 2005” in preparations by member states.

Meanwhile, health officials of the Czech Republic confirmed Thursday in Prague that a wild swan found dead in the southern part of the country earlier in the week was infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu. They made the announcement a day after health experts confirmed that another dead swan found the previous week in the same area was infected with the Czech Republic’s first known case of the H5N1 virus, which can be lethal to humans.

Prague is 550 miles from Paris — “as the crow flies.”

Additional tests were under way to determine if the second swan, found in Hluboka Nad Vltavou, also carried the deadly H5N1 strain, Josef Duben, a spokesman for the Czech government veterinary service, told AFP. The European Union laboratory at Weybridge, Britain, confirmed on Wednesday the first case of H5N1 in the Czech Republic, discovered on March 20 about 100 miles south of Prague.

The Czech national laboratory at Prague-Suchdol said Thursday that it had detected “a highly pathogenic H5” strain of the virus in the second swan, found dead a few miles away at Ceske Budejovice on March 25, the news release added.

EU health authorities, the commission and drug groups participated Nov. 23-24 in a vast simulation exercise to see if “national preparedness plans would work together in an influenza pandemic, as well as testing coordination and communication,” the commission announced.

A report on the exercise, prepared by the Health Protection Agency, found some communication problems and said that national plans did not sufficiently account for the international dimension of a pandemic.

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