The Government will be assessing the threat of bird flu on an hourly basis to ensure measures are in place to prevent a human pandemic, Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan pledged today.
European veterinary experts are meeting in Brussels today for an emergency discussion on the deadly strain and are expected to issue recommendations on additional precautionary measures as the disease spreads.
Cases of avian flu in Turkey have been confirmed as the virulent H5N1 strain, which has been blamed for 60 deaths in Asia.
Scientists are also awaiting results of other tests from samples taken from dead birds in Romania to see if they are the same strain.
There are concerns that the virus could mutate and lead to a human pandemic.
“This is an evolving issue, this is going to change day after day,” Ms Coughlan said.
“We will be on top of it, we will be ensuring that there would be specific measures put in place and this will be assessed on a daily, if not hourly, measure.
“All we can do is be aware, be vigilant and look at early detection.”
But Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation warned that if a pandemic virus emerged, it would be difficult to halt.
“We will have a small window of opportunity when it emerges – probably a couple of weeks – to use surveillance and drugs to stop the virus.
“We have to know when it starts so we need much better surveillance, and we need much better reporting, we need much more aggressive investigation of suspected cases and we need to use the tools we have.
“We have to hope for the best, but we have to prepare for the worst,” he told RTE Radio.
“We do have a candidate vaccine, and the strain in that vaccine is very similar to the strains transmitting at the moment in the bird population.
“The problem we have is not the creation of the vaccine, the problem is the production of the vaccine in enough quantities.
“Producing this vaccine is a very complicated industrial process and requires very sophisticated systems and we frankly do not have enough capacity on the planet right now to produce this vaccine in enough quantities to serve all of the world’s population,” he warned.
He said money was needed to invest in national surveillance systems, communication systems and vaccine production, issues which he said could only be solved at the highest level of Government.