Brits get ready for bird flu pandemic

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bird fluBefore the onset of winter and the annual flu outbreak, doctors around the UK will be preparing for a much more worrying influenza epidemic this season.

Next month surgeries across Britain will receive instructions to prepare for a feared pandemic of bird flu amid concerns the deadly disease might spread across Europe.

Information packs will include a 50-page technical guide to help doctors identify cases of bird flu, and guidelines on containing an outbreak of the virus that has killed more than 50 people in southeast Asia since 2003.

These packs will also contain leaflets for the public, and are part of the government's planned response to a potential flu pandemic which was agreed with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In an attempt to reassure the public the Department of Health has said that the timing of the distribution of the packs reflects the production cycle and does not signify a heightened state of alert.

According to the department, as yet there have been no cases of human-to-human transmission of bird flu, which would signal the start of a pandemic.

But health authorities are concerned that the virus could spread to Europe following mass bird deaths in a Russian region to the west of the Ural mountains this week, and as tens of millions of birds continue to migrate to warmer climates in coming months.

The WHO has called for tight checks in Russia and Kazakhstan to detect any further bird flu outbreaks among poultry, and has expressed concern about the "expanding geographical presence" of the deadly H5N1 virus beyond southeast Asia.

The agency says that no human cases had been detected in either the former Soviet republic or Russia.

In a prompt and cautious move, the Dutch agriculture ministry on Friday ordered all poultry to be kept indoors from Monday this week to prevent contact with migrating birds that could spread the disease from Russia.

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