EC health chiefs plan advice line on diseases

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A EUROPEAN early warning system for outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as typhoid, is to be set up under an initiative by Britain as part of its presidency of the European Community.

Health officials have warned that the transmission of communicable diseases could cross Europe more quickly after border controls are abolished next year. Britain will propose the creation of a European network of information to be exchanged to combat outbreaks, similar to that operating for HIV and Aids-related diseases. Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, who will chair the next EC council of health ministers on 13 November, is preparing for the initiative with a series of meetings with EC health ministers. 'We hope to take forward an initiative on communicable diseases with better co-ordination and notification,' she said.

Member states would pass information to each other about outbreaks of illness, which could cross borders. It could mean that the authorities will be alerted about the identities of potential carriers of disease after outbreaks.

It will also seek to avoid illnesses occurring through ignorance of outbreaks in other countries. In one case, Britons contracted listeria from French cheese because they were unaware of warnings.

The exchange of information would also try to avoid scares and false alarms based on inaccurate information, such as reports of 'killer' British beef resulting from 'mad cow disease'. There would be improved cross-border monitoring of the incidence of child-related infectious diseases with European campaigns to achieve improved vaccination levels. Britain will also hold a two-day seminar on health measures to combat drug misuse and addiction in the week after the council meeting.

Childhood diseases in England and Wales have fallen to an all-time low, Mrs Bottomley said. Last year was the first in which no child died from whooping cough.