Bird flu coming to roost?

Concern grew in Greece yesterday about Asian bird flu after authorities confirmed cases of the disease had been found in neighboring Turkey and nearby Romania, while experts pleaded with the public not to overreact as anti-viral medicines were snapped up by anxious pharmacy customers. As tests for bird flu on dead fowl in Turkey and Romania proved positive yesterday, the Greek government said it would be holding a meeting of health ministers from Balkan and Black Sea countries to discuss how best to tackle the disease. «The conference is aimed at drawing up a common action plan in the case of an avian flu pandemic,» said Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis. The meeting is due to be held at the beginning of November. Kaklamanis noted that some countries in the area had been adopting measures against the disease while others had been less active. He said the issue took on added importance in the Balkans and Black Sea because they are one of the «gates of entry» for migratory birds. The minister also briefed Premier Costas Karamanlis about a special action plan, called «Perseus,» which has been designed to be employed at hospitals should there be a public health crisis. Veterinary authorities in Piraeus went on the alert yesterday when they were informed that a Portuguese-flagged ship sailing from Egypt had docked at the port with a dead bird on board. The Agricultural Development Ministry said later that the dead bird and another three live ones found on board did not show any signs of having contracted avian flu. Tests on poultry and birds in other parts of the country have not turned up any cases of the disease so far. Meanwhile, the president of the Association of Attica Pharmacies, Constantinos Lourantos, told Kathimerini that some pharmacies have run out of vaccines against conventional flu as anxious and confused customers rush to protect themselves against an outbreak. He warned that unless people stopped panicking, supplies of the jabs could run dangerously low. Kaklamanis said that only those particularly at risk from flu, such as the elderly, should try to get inoculated against the virus.