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Bird Flu Hits Close To Home. What then?

When the first outbreak of H5N1 was found on the tourist island of Rügen in Germany the country took action. Here's a look at how Germany reacted.

January 2006: more and more carcasses from birds were being found in Eastern Germany. The Parks Board reckoned that was normal during a long and relatively hard winter.

14 February: a tourist reported finding four dead swans on the east coast island of Rügen. A quick test indicated this could be H5N1, Avian Influenza (Bird Flu). Later that was confirmed.

15 February: More dead birds were found. All domestic birds were immediately required to be in stalls. Government officials called an emergency meeting.

16 February: It’s official! H5N1 is the cause of death of more and more birds on the island of Rügen.

17 February: Country-wide birds are required to be in stalls or under protective cover. All hens, ducks, geese and turkeys must be in stalls. Politicians discuss ways to better or refine their action plan.

18 February: The Island of Rügen is placed under alarm. That means a security zone of 3 kilometers (2 miles) around the dead birds is in place and 10 km (6 miles) zone of observation is put in place. All cars, trucks and buses are disinfected and the selling of birds is stopped. All birds within the 3 km security zone are disinfected. Locals are asked to immediately report to the police, fire or veterinarian clinics any dead animals. They are told not to touch any bird, just to report it.

19 February: Dead birds are now found on the German mainland.

20 February: The whole east-coast of Germany is put under alarm and all counties of Germany were getting themselves prepared.

In the mean time, fire-fighters, soldiers, experts and even volunteers are on the island of Rügen. Some are in masks, some are in full-protective suits to disinfect while others simply are there to watch and report on birds and answer questions of the locals. 1,280 protective masks were brought in, 1,550 disposable protective suits and 150 non-disposable suits, 1,200 safety glasses, 1,150 pair of rubber boots, 1,700 pair protective gloves and 1000 liters of disinfectant. Around the zone a further 11,780 masks, 11,560 disposable suits, 10,072 protective goggles, 9,140 pairs of boots and another 5,000 liters of disinfectant were brought into reserve not to mention 39 special epidemic cots. By now there were 370 people there to help.

The moral of this story? First, don’t panic. When H5N1 Avian Influenza breaks out, there is much which can be done. Tests are getting better and faster for dead animals and as more and more countries are affected, so too is the reaction process checked and re-checked. Note at the beginning it was a tourist who reported the dead swans. Your responsibility is to keep a watch out and report anything strange – such as four or five dead birds together. Also noteworthy is the reaction of the people in Germany. There was no panic – remember that this is an ongoing battle – and there was lots of help. Although the Minister of Agriculture Dr. Till Backhaus had hoped for even a faster response time, there is no doubt that this was well handled. It was also an excellent example for other countries when Bird flu hits close to home.

About the Author: Paul Madrid is a minister, author of several Avian Bird Flu publications and web host at “H5N1, avian (bird) influenza and you."

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