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Bird flu sparking human epidemic is 'science fiction': Spain

AFP | October 20 2005

Spain's agriculture minister dismissed fears bird flu sparking a global epidemic among humans as "science fiction", saying the virus currently only poses a threat to birds.

"The idea of a pandemic among humans is something from science fiction," Spanish Agricultural Minister Elena Espinosa said on the private radio station Cadena Ser, as Europe braced for the further spread of the H5N1 strain of the bird flu, which has killed 60 people in Asia during the past three years.

Outbreaks of the H5N1 strain have been confirmed in Romania and Turkey, while further tests are being conducted on a suspect case in Greece.

Currently the bird flu is "solely and exclusively a veterinary problem," said Espinosa.

Human infections in Asia were "in very specific poultry raising situations where the families lived with the chickens and infection was due to constant inhalation," Espinosa said.

While H5N1 currently does not spread easily between people, many scientists fear that it may combine with seasonal influenza in humans, mutating into an easily transmissible form that could kill millions like in the 1918 influenza pandemic.

However, Espinosa announced increased surveillance measures and that the stockpile of bird flu vaccine for chickens would be doubled to 10 million doses.

She said a quarantine would be set up around any suspected bird flu outbreaks, with poultry in nearby areas receiving vaccinations.

The Spanish government decided Tuesday to buy six to 10 million doses of anti-viral drugs for groups most at risk for human flu.

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