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Brussels, 28 June 2005

Summit of EU influenza experts discusses coordinated response to possible pandemic

Influenza experts from the 25 Member States and other European countries are meeting in Luxembourg today to discuss the threats of avian and human influenza, and possible responses to a pandemic, as part of the integrated zoonoses strategy. The workshop, which was organised by the European Commission and also attended by experts from the ECDC, EFSA, WHO, FAO and OIE, is being held in light of the current avian flu situation in Asia and growing concerns that a mutant virus could lead to a worldwide pandemic amongst humans. Among the topics on the workshop agenda are how to improve coordination between avian and human influenza networks, and the role of various bodies in the fight against the disease.

Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said: “The threat of a global influenza pandemic with serious human and economic losses is a very real one that must be addressed. In today’s globalised society, unilateral responses to such possible outbreaks are not a viable option. There must be a coordinated EU approach to prevent and control diseases such as influenza, and today’s workshop is a significant step forward in this direction.”

The current avian influenza epidemic in Asia is unprecedented. It is caused by a particular strain of virus that has already caused the death or killing and destruction of more than 125 million birds, major economic losses to the countries concerned which have been estimated at € 8-12 billion and the death of more than 50 people. Even more worryingly, it has given rise to grave concerns that an influenza pandemic is imminent.

This would originate in case of the emergence of a “new” influenza virus, fully adapted to humans, which could rapidly spread worldwide due to human-to-human transmission. The social and economic consequences of pandemics can be devastating, as was the case with the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic which led to the death of approximately 60 million people. International health experts have warned that increased movement of people and goods around the globe, changes in the eco-systems, new animal husbandry practices and large-scale epidemics such as the avian flu in Asia, all create the conditions from which a new influenza virus may emerge and a pandemic breaking out.

Networks of veterinary and human health laboratories are already in place in the EU to address the threat of Influenza viruses. The exchange of information, virus strains and laboratory reagents amongst the various EU surveillance networks, and the provision of adequate technical support to national veterinary and human health authorities, are of fundamental importance in order to properly tackle influenza viruses.

The Commission is now working to establish improved co-operation between the avian and human influenza surveillance networks, as well as the relevant European and international organisations dealing with animal and human health, to ensure better preparation in case of a pandemic.

This is only one of the many actions undertaken by the Commission in relation to this major health threat.

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