Finland prepares for possible global bird flu pandemic
Disease could kill 13,000 - 16,000 Finns
Finland is preparing for the possible worldwide spread of avian influenza, or bird flu, by stockpiling about 1.3 million courses of the drug Tabiflu, which can be used to protect those who have been exposed to the disease, and to treat those who show symptoms.
The measures are in response to a recommendation by the World Health Organisation, according to which countries should prepare to protect one quarter of their population against the disease.
"Experts consider the spread of the disease to be so likely that it would be irresponsible not to make preparations", says Merja Saarinen of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
She notes that the medicines that are to be stockpiled will be used only if the disease becomes a global pandemic.
The medicine would be used to protect hospital personnel and to treat those in risk groups. Saarinen says that more of the medicine will be ordered if the spread of the disease appears likely.
Avian influenza is a dangerous disease which kills about 75% of those who catch it.
It has spread among poultry and wild birds, and can spread to humans through the faeces or blood of infected birds. So far the virus has not developed into a form that can spread between humans.
The virus has been found mainly in Southeast Asia. During the past year an estimated 40 people have died of the disease in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia.
"There are currently ordinary flu epidemics in the area. It is possible that a new form of avian flu will develop, which spreads from one person to another, which would turn into a pandemic", says Reijo Pyhälä of the National Public Health Institute.
Pyhälä says that it is not possible to predict how likely a pandemic would be.
"Researchers are sure that it will break out at some time. It is impossible to say if it will happen in a year, five years, or perhaps ten years. Nor can we say if the pandemic will be caused by bird flu or some other virus."
On the basis of previous influenza pandemics of 1957 and 1968, it has been estimated that 25 - 30% of Finns would come down with the disease, and that at least one percent of those who do might die.
Therefore, the total death toll in Finland would be between 13,000 and 16,000. An estimated 250 - 1,500 people die in Finland each year of ordinary influenza and complications that arise from it.
World Health Organisation