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Brussels, 4 Februray 2004

Avian influenza: EU experts in Vietnam help investigating threat to human health

Two EU public health experts have arrived in Vietnam to join a World Health Organisation (WHO) team working to contain the avian influenza outbreak in Asia. They join an EU animal health expert sent to Vietnam last week to assist in efforts to eradicate the disease from the country's poultry farms (see MEX/04/0129). Avian influenza is highly contagious among chickens and other birds but is usually difficult for humans to catch. However, the number of human death from the current epidemic in Asia has risen to thirteen and the WHO has declared containing the disease to be a public health priority. The three EU experts in Vietnam have been sent in response to calls for international assistance from the WHO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The EU public health experts are helping the Vietnamese authorities protect people against the virus, while the animal health expert is helping eradicate the disease from the country's poultry farms.

David Byrne, the EU said "The EU is glad to be able to support the WHO and the other international agencies in their effort to combat avian flu in Asia. It is our duty to assist those countries in need."

Protecting people from bird flu

The two EU public health experts from research institutes in Germany and the Netherlands, who are from the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET), will help the Vietnamese authorities protect their people against avian influenza. They will also investigate how the disease has spread to humans in Vietnam and make recommendation on measures to prevent further infections. They help the WHO monitor for any possible human-to-human transmission of the disease.

European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET)

EPIET is a unique project, which contributes to the development of European-wide capacity to respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases inside or outside the EU. EPIET fellows receive post-graduate practical training and field experience in public health institutes throughout Europe for 2 years. The response to outbreaks of international importance, such as avian influenza in Vietnam, has highlighted the value of this Commission funded project during such incidents.

After 10 years of operation, 101 fellows trained by EPIET form a strong European network that can be drawn on by the Commission, EU Member States (plus Norway and Switzerland) and WHO if need be. As well as joining investigation teams, EPIET fellows can also undertake field assignments of longer duration.

In recent years, several EPIET fellows went to international assignments with the WHO to assist the investigation of outbreaks of infectious diseases such as infants deaths in Egypt, tularaemia in Kosovo, suspected anthrax in Ethiopia, ebola in Uganda and Gabon, cholera in Mozambique, yellow fever in Ivory Cost and the Republic of Guinea and recently SARS in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

These examples demonstrate the importance of long-term investment in public health at EU level, and underline the need for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which is currently under debate in the EU institutions (see IP/03/1091).

Further information

On avian influenza and human health:

On avian influenza and animal health:

On the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET):

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