Not all experts agree. "I find it slightly scary that there are people around who are taking it so lightly," says John Oxford, a professor of virology at Queen Mary School of Medicine in London, who studies the avian flu virus. Oxford argues the Netherlands' response is a more effective way to reduce the risk of wild birds transmitting the virus. The Dutch learned their lesson the hard way two years ago; then a milder virus strain led to the death or destruction of 31 million birds at a cost of more than j780 million. The virus also infected 83 people, most of whom suffered mild symptoms; one veterinarian died. Jan Odink, president of the Association of Dutch Poultry Processing Industries, says Dutch farmers support the policy: "It just takes some droppings from these passing birds to create a risk. And if you're too late, you have to slaughter in ever wider circles." The Germans are following the Dutch example, requiring that the outdoor free-range chickens among the country's 110 million commercial birds—some 11%—be kept indoors or covered once the autumn wild-bird migration begins. But the policy won't be universally adopted, because some European countries lack adequate indoor space or the means to assure that all the chickens are staying safely cooped up. Swiss pharma firm Roche last week pledged to donate 3 million courses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu to the World Health Organization, in case the virus mutates into a form that can rapidly infect humans. But at least for now, authorities hope this virus is just for the birds.
Bird flu had Europe aflutter last week. The lethal , H5N1 ,mavian flu virus, which has killed 57 of the 112 people it's infected in Asia since the end of 2003 and caused the death or destruction of 150 million poultry there, was found in flocks in Russia and Kazakhstan. Then Finnish authorities said another strain of the virus may have killed a seagull in a northern coastal town. The discoveries fanned fears that it could travel west and infect the European Union's estimated ?22-billion-a-year egg-and-poultry industry, or mutate into a strain that leaps the species barrier to humans. Agricultural authorities in the Netherlands ordered farmers to keep some 5 to 6 million free-range hens indoors. Veterinary experts from the E.U.'s 25 member states expressed "cause for serious concern," but stopped short of imposing a general ban on keeping poultry outdoors; the immediate risk that migratory birds would spread the virus to the E.U. was "probably remote or low," they said.