Leading article: On a wing and a prayer

Share

What health experts had long predicted - and feared - appears to have happened: the bird flu virus has reached the borders of Europe. An outbreak has been detected among farm birds in Turkey and another possible case is being analysed in Romania. Tens of thousands of birds are being slaughtered. At this stage, the operation is an animal health issue. The culling is to stop the infection spreading within and between flocks. There is no evidence, as yet, that this is the deadly strain of bird flu that can be caught by humans, although the all-clear is contingent on test results to be released later this week.

But this serves as a timely reminder of the need for national governments to be alive to the threat posed by an avian flu pandemic. We must not lose sight of the potential deadly threat of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. It has killed 50 per cent of those who have become infected. And if this lethal virus mutates and becomes transmissible from human to human it has the potential to spread with terrifying speed. The problem is that infected people take time to develop symptoms. In this age of global travel, they can be half way around the world in a single day before they know they are infected. So can the virus.

Britain is an island on the edge of Europe, but we are just as much at risk as many other nations. Migratory birds are H5N1 carriers and Britain is on their route. The Government must be prepared to face down the farming industry and order the culling of thousands of poultry if an outbreak occurs. This is the only way to prevent the spread of the virus. And to help human sufferers, our stockpiles of anti-viral drugs must be built up even further. It is very difficult to prevent someone catching the virus, but it is possible to save lives by alleviating their symptoms. The Government must also devise plans to quarantine communities if an outbreak occurs. More should be done at a European level too. The European Commission has rightly banned all Turkish live bird and feather imports, but this is not enough on its own. Some European countries are facing the pandemic relatively unprepared. It is in the interests of the entire EU to see that any outbreak is swiftly tackled. The efforts of individual governments will not be enough.

The bird flu virus does not respect national borders, as its rapid spread from south Asia has demonstrated. Anti-viral drugs and expertise must be ready to be deployed in Europe as soon there is a serious outbreak. At an international level, governments need to devote greater resources to developing more effective vaccines and epidemic surveillance. The danger remains real. We are perilously close to a global public health emergency.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker