THE PORTUGUESE government this week has been reviewing the Plano de Contingência para a Gripe das Aves, the contingency plan for bird flu, following new guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In statements made to the media by Graça Freitas, the head of the Divisão de Doenças Transmissíveis da Direcção-Geral da Saúde, the health service’s department for transmissible diseases, a bird flu pandemic could cause between 11,000 and 13,000 deaths in Portugal. Apparently, the decision to speak publicly about the possible figures was only taken after Freitas’ British counterpart in the UK’s National Health Service revealed that the virus, if it reached Britain, could be responsible for the deaths of between 50,000 and 55,000 people.
It is the first time that the Portuguese government has commented on the possible death toll, although the figures are referred to in a written report compiled by Ricardo Jorge of the Instituto Nacional de Saúde, the national health institute. Jorge also stated that the worse case scenario could see 35 per cent of Portugal’s population affected by the bird flu, meaning that the death toll could in fact reach 1.5 million.
The Portuguese government has already ordered 2.5 million doses of Tamiflu, which is considered to be the most efficient medicine available to combat bird flu, however, recent investigations reveal that, in some cases, the H5N1 virus can resist the drug.
Details of the revised contingency plan for Portugal have not been released yet as various aspects are still being debated, but it is known that one of the key measures to be taken is the creation of isolated sections within the country’s hospitals and emergency units. This, it is hoped, will go some way towards containing the highly infectious bird flu.
So far, evidence indicates that migratory birds are responsible for the spread of the virus from Southeast Asia to Europe (cases were recently discovered in Turkey and Romania). Wild birds are transporting the virus and transmitting it to domestic species. To date, worldwide, 52 per cent of victims contracting the virus have died.