Disease agency says EU needs at least 2 years to prepare for flu pandemic

It will take at least two years before the European Union is fully ready to deal with a flu pandemic, the bloc's disease control agency said Thursday.

While all EU countries have completed national preparedness plans for how to deal with a possible pandemic, more work is needed to make them fully operational, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, or ECDC, said in a report.

ECDC Director Zsuzsanna Jakab said the bloc has made "considerable progress" in its preparation since 2005, when fears spread among Europeans that the H5N1 strain of bird flu might mutate into a form more easily transmitted to and between humans and spark a pandemic.

"We need to maintain the current political climate and momentum to continue and finish this work," Jakab said. "In our estimate, we need another two to three years to respond well to a pandemic."

The ECDC's report was based on a review of what 25 EU countries all bloc members except recent additions Bulgaria and Romania as well as non-EU members Norway and Iceland have done to prepare for a pandemic, reports AP.

The ECDC said countries still need better planning to make sure different government agencies can effectively cooperate on curbing an outbreak, as well as increase efforts to prevent the spread of seasonal influenza. More money is also needed for flu research, the agency said.

"The European Union is the best prepared region in the world ... for a possible pandemic influenza," Jakab said. "However, we cannot be complacent, as it is clear that we must go much further."

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