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IP/04/64

Brussels, 16 January 2004

European Commission offers help in Avian Influenza crisis to Vietnam

The European Commission offered today assistance to the Vietnam Government in dealing with all aspects of the Avian Influenza crisis in the country in response to the WHO appeal for support.

European Health Commissioner David BYRNE, on an official visit to the country today, said after his meetings with Vice Prime Minister Mr Vu Khoanm and Vice-Minister of Health Mr Tran Chi Liem:

"I am pleased to announce that the EU will be able to help the Vietnamese people in their efforts to combat the quickly spreading avian influenza disease. European experts with outstanding knowledge and expertise are available to travel to Vietnam over the coming days to assist with the investigation into the human and animal health problems. Last year the EU was itself hit by a major outbreak of Avian influenza and having gone through that experience I understand fully the challenges facing Vietnam. "

The Commission and the Member States are responding to a call of the WHO for support. The experts are available to help Vietnamese health authorities in the investigation and containment of human cases of avian influenza, including epidemiological investigation of the pattern of transmission or advice on hospital infection control measures. They would also support the Vietnamese authorities in their efforts to reduce the risk of transmission of avian influenza from animals to humans, including advice on control measures to protect persons exposed to possible infected animals from disease.

Background

    Animal Disease

AI is a highly contagious viral infection of poultry which depending on the species can cause major losses to the poultry industry. Free-living birds may carry influenza viruses without becoming ill due to a natural resistance. It is known that wild waterfowl present a natural reservoir for these viruses and can be responsible for the primary introduction of infection into domestic poultry. AI is listed by OIE as a list A disease capable of spreading rapidly irrespective of national borders. The disease may have serious socio-economic consequences with disruption of international trade in live poultry and poultry products.

The EU does not import any poultry from Vietnam, South Korea or Japan the countries currently hit by an outbreak.

    Public health

Although the transmission of avian influenza to humans has happened only on a few occasions, mostly causing conjunctivitis and milder forms of influenza like illness, however 6 fatal cases (out of 18 reported infected people) have occurred in 1997 in Hong Kong with subtype H5N1. In early 2003 three persons were again infected with the same subtype and died. During the Dutch epidemic in 2003 one veterinarian died due to infection with avian influenza of subtype H7N7. Human infections via poultry products e.g. meat or table eggs have never been reported, and direct contact to infected birds is the main source of infection for humans.


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