Fri Aug 19th, 2005 at 01:36:30 PM EST
At the end of my last diary, I promised to report on the deliberations of German authorities regarding the potential spread of bird flu to Germany.
The short version:
- There is currently "little acute risk".
- Free-range poultry are to be confined to cages for the duration of the bird migration season.
- Germany will make 20 million available for vaccine research.
- Plus, a local health official describes the state of preparedness on the ground.
Details below the fold.
According to Today's Kölner Stadtanzeiger, the authorities had this to say:
Berlin/dpa - Federal Consumer protection Minister Renate Künast (Green) will seek to implement an emergency plan to prevent a possible outbreak of bird flu in Germany, but does not see any acute danger at present. "We are preparing for the worst case," she said in Berlin on Friday. Border inspections will be intensified, and the planned prohibition of free-range poultry husbandry is expected to take effect mid-September, when the bird migrations from Eastern Europe are expected. The minister added that there was no reason for concern at present, as this animal disease had not yet broken out on this side of the Urals.
According to the KStA, Künast added that a meeting of experts on the EU level was scheduled for next Wednesday.
In all, Künast is focusing on avian flu strictly as an animal disease.
Under the heading of "Pandemic Risk", the Frankfurter Allgemeine reports that German Finance Minister Hans Eichel decided on short notice to make a total of 20 million available for H5N1 vaccine research, with 2 million to be disbursed in the current year.
But the most interesting remarks of all, in my opinion, are to be found in the print version of today's Kölner Stadtanzeiger, which assigned an actual reporter to interview the head of the Cologne City Health Department, Jan Leidel, who discusses what would happen in the event that H5N1 did indeed become transmissible directly from person to person. His basic attitude is:
"For us, it is no longer a question of whether, but rather when the next pandemic [flu outbreak] occurs here."
Currently, according to a representative of the State Ministry of Health, the state has appropriated some 33.5 million to acquire the antiviral medications Tamiflu and Relenza in quantities sufficient for 15% of the population - "more than any other state".
In the event of an outbreak, the plan is to reserve this medicine for essential personnel - police, firefighters and health and hospital staff. Leidel however has doubts about the practicality of this strategy:
"What do we do when a firefighter calls in sick? We send him the medicine by courier. And what about his sick wife and kids? They get nothing from the city and have to go to a doctor. But what if the pharma manufacturers can't produce enough and the [fireman's] dependents can't obtain any medicine from their physician?"
(It is worth noting that other health professionals are proposing a strategy whereby outbreak clusters are quickly "squelched" by blanketing with antivirals, an approach I described in a BT diary.)
With regard to readiness, Leidel notes that the city is subordinate to the state in such matters. And while the state's expert group is now monitoring the development of the disease more intensively, "there are still questions that the experts haven't answered."
Leidel also notes that there is no public information policy in place.
In absolute terms, the probability of a is probably pretty low. On the other hand, a pandemic is inevitable at some point, and H5N1 is currently the most likely candidate on the horizon. I do not know how representative the situation in Cologne and NRW is for other cities in Germany and Europe, but I for one find it disconcerting.