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Switzerland arms itself against bird flu

Can Switzerland stop bird flu in its tracks? Keystone

Switzerland has taken a number of precautionary measures to protect its citizens in the event of the human strain of bird flu spreading from Asia.

This content was published on February 18, 2004 - 11:52

These include stockpiling antiviral drugs and a poster campaign in all Swiss airports.

On Wednesday, the government instructed the pharmaceutical industry to amass supplies of antiviral drugs to prepare for an outbreak of influenza.

Since Tuesday, posters in Swiss airports have warned travellers against bringing poultry products from the affected Asian countries into the country.

The Federal Veterinary Office imposed an import ban two weeks ago, covering animal feed, meat, eggs and feathers.

Airports

The authorities have already prepared for the eventuality that a sick person might carry the infection into the country.

“This could happen at airports, although the risk is very small,” the Federal Health Office’s Hans Matter told swissinfo.

Zurich airport already has measures in place to deal with an aircraft carrying a sick individual.

“If the pilot reports a suspected case, the plane is isolated after landing,” an airport spokesman told swissinfo.

The affected person would be given medical treatment and the contact details of the other passengers recorded.

Pandemic

The authorities have also prepared for the possibility of a pandemic, with humans across the world struck down with a mutated strain of the bird flu.

“We are well connected with the World Health Organization,” said Matter, “We have a special mobile number in use 24 hours a day where we can get immediate information.”

According to pandemic plans conceived in 2000, should such a catastrophe break out, the emphasis would be on developing a vaccine as soon as possible.

Laboratories across the world are on stand-by to work on any such vaccine. In Switzerland, the firm Berna Biotech would do the work.

“Should a pandemic break out, we would get the strain flown in from London,” said Robert Mischler, Berna Biotech’s production head.

“We would then stop normal production.”

While producing a new vaccine normally takes a long time, in an emergency it is possible to accelerate the process, he said.

Earlier this month, the WHO recommended that Tamiflu - an anti-influenza drug produced by Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche - be made available to people involved in the culling of flocks of birds in Asia.

swissinfo

Key facts

Bird flu has broken out in ten Asian countries:
Indonesia
Japan
Cambodia
Laos
Pakistan
North Korea
Thailand
Vietnam
Taiwan
China

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In brief

The Swiss authorities have put measures in place to prevent bird flu spreading to the country.

These include a poster campaign and instructions to the pharmaceutical industry to stockpile antiviral drugs.

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