EU Ministers to Hold Emergency Flu Talks

EU health ministers planned emergency talks Thursday in Luxembourg to coordinate national efforts in preventing the spread of swine flu in Europe.

The European Union's disease control agency in Stockholm said, meanwhile, that the region was never better prepared for a pandemic, and would intensify surveillance and testing for the new virus, while coordinating the use of antiviral treatments, such as Tamiflu or Relenza.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said the World Health Organization's decision to raise the pandemic alert to level 5 was "an appropriate response" to the spread of the virus, according to a statement.

Officials, health experts and envoys from the 27-nation bloc have been in crisis talks since the weekend to assess joint measures that could help contain the virus and improve treatment for infected patients.

Already Britain, Spain, Austria, Germany and Switzerland have confirmed cases of the disease, which is blamed for over 150 deaths and 2,400 infections in Mexico.

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EU officials said they expected more cases within the bloc in the days ahead.

"We are expecting the situation to develop further, but there is no cause for panic," EU spokeswoman Nina Papadoulaki said. "We are all ready to manage the situation ... we are doing everything we can."

The Luxembourg meeting will discuss whether to issue a Europe-wide travel advisory for Mexico, after many EU nations warned travelers to avoid unnecessary trips to Mexico and parts of the United States where outbreaks have been confirmed.

French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said she would push for the EU to suspend flights to Mexico.

Her German counterpart said, however, "that would be a very drastic measure,"

"At the moment, I don't think the situation is there; whether it could be will depend on how things develop," German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt said on ARD television Thursday morning.

The EU ministers will also debate more unified measures for prevention and treatment.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou met with European drugmakers Wednesday to discuss efforts to produce vaccines and antivirals to combat swine flu.

National authorities share information on diagnosis and lab results through the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, which has strongly advised against traveling to Mexico.

Airlines criticized the warnings against nonessential travel to Mexico and parts of the United States.

Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary general of the Association of European Airlines called the warnings "irresponsible and ill-advised" and said they could do more harm than good. Airlines are "well-prepared to handle health crises," he said.


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