bird flu 88.
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A day after EU foreign ministers declared the spread of avian flu from Asia into Europe a 'global threat' requiring broad international cooperation to contain, Health Minister Dani Naveh said it was unlikely Israel would escape an international outbreak.
Naveh, who, together with his ministry's senior officials, briefed reporters on how Israel is preparing for a possible outbreak, said that if the disease were detected in Israel, all fowl in a three-kilometer radius would be destroyed, while all fowl in the country would be inoculated.
The press conference came amid an announcement by Hungary's health minister that his country has developed a vaccine that could protect both humans and animals from the bird flu virus.
"The results are preliminary but I can say with 99.9 percent certainty that the vaccine works" in protecting living organisms from the H5N1 virus, Jeno Racz said after a government cabinet meeting.
Health Ministry Dir.-Gen. Professor Avi Yisraeli estimated that an international outbreak of the disease was "just a matter of time".
According to Yisraeli, "Most scientists believe it is only a question of when, not if. It won't come as a surprise if the disease reaches Israel, and infects both birds and humans."
However, the head of the Israeli Center of Disease Control, Professor Manfred Green, stressed that "there is no problem regarding public health. Those at risk are only fowl and fowl farmers. At present, the virus can only be transmitted to those who come in close contact with fowl."
Scientists are concerned that if the virus mutates, enabling it to be passed from person to person, a worldwide epidemic could develop.
Professor Yisraeli added, "We are prepared for a possibility that people would get infected and have acquired TamiFlu [anti-viral medicine]. The public does not need the medicine right now, there is no point to take it and wait for the virus. There is concern that if people take the medication now, the regular winter flu virus would become resistant."
The ministry said that Israel has stocked up on enough of the medicine to supply seven percent of the population; it is aiming to cover 25% of the public, based on the recommendation of the World Health Organization.
Earlier, the UN Food Agency announced that the risk of infection in the Middle East grew significantly since the virus was detected in Turkey and Romania.
According to the agency, the fact that the climate in the region is hospitable to migrating birds could result in the arrival of the virus.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio that officials of the Israeli and Jordanian veterinary services would meet at the border between the two countries on Thursday to work on a plan to combat the deadly bird flu.
"It's a technical meeting, which will tackle ways of coordinating efforts to prevent the spread of bird flu," Israeli embassy spokesman Jacob Raber told The Associated Press in Amman.
The London based Arab daily a-Sharq al-Awsat reported on Wednesday that the meeting would be attended by officials from Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Authority.
However, Syria's official news agency SANA quoted officials at the Ministry of Agriculture as saying that the report was "completely baseless."
An official at the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture said his office had not been informed of any meeting, but had requested regional talks, which could occur within the next few days.
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