What is happening in Poland with this comment?

By Bojan Pancevski in Munich
The Telegraph - UK

Germany has been accused of negligence and incompetence by France for failing to tackle an outbreak of rabies that is threatening to spread across Europe.

The outbreak, which began in the state of Hessen, has reached almost epidemic proportions with dozens of rabid foxes - the main carriers of the disease - reported in recent months.

To the fury of the French, who have spent millions of euros on an eradication programme, German health officials announced last week that the first cases could turn up in France this month.

The news has alarmed France's tourism chiefs as they gear up for the summer influx of visitors. About 75 million tourists visited the country last year, nearly 15 million of them Britons.

In humans, rabies affects the central nervous system. It is typically spread through a bite from an infected animal. From initial flu-like signs and symptoms, the illness progresses to convulsions, hallucinations, paralysis or breathing failure. Once established, it is almost always fatal.

French officials have laid 80,000 fishmeal briquettes baited with a rabies vaccine along the German border.

In Germany's worst-affected state, Rheinland-Pfalz, which borders Belgium, France and Luxembourg, 25 rabid foxes have been killed this year.

With the exception of Poland, all Germany's neighbours have invested heavily in vaccination programmes. They are now concerned that rabid animals will cross their borders and re-introduce the lethal disease.

Germany first admitted that it had lost control of rabies at the start of the year, two months after the first reported case in Hessen in November. Birgit Straubinger, a disease prevention officer for the local ministry of environmental affairs and forestry, said: "We wrongly considered the Rhine to be a natural border that wouldn't be crossed by the foxes. This was a mistake."

Dr Florence Cliquet, head of the French rabies laboratory at the Agence Fran�aise de S�curit� Sanitaire des Aliments, said that it was only one of a series of mistakes. She said that unlike France, the Benelux countries and Switzerland, all of which are rabies-free, the Germans were using a vaccine which was not approved by the World Health Organisation, and was so temperature-sensitive that it easily became ineffective.

"It has also been known to cause vaccine rabies cases, in which the animals actually get the virus from the vaccine," she said.

"Secondly, they drop the vaccine-baits from aircraft or use hunters to distribute them by hand, which has proven very inefficient in other countries.

"We use helicopters that are much more precise and allow for bait to be spread even in suburban areas, which is essential. As for the hunters, we stopped relying on them as long ago as 1986. They were more likely to be enjoying a beer in the pub than carefully laying vaccine baits over a designated area," she said.

Despite French concerns, the Germans are persisting with their approach. Only last week, they dropped a further 100,000 vaccine baits from the air and distributed 30,000 more by hand in Hessen alone. Yet Ms Straubinger admitted that the French were right to be worried. "Their caution is fully justified but we are doing our best to fight the disease spreading," she said.

"A large-scale vaccination programme is being carried out every six weeks. We are trying to make sure as many foxes as possible in the affected areas are shot. Rabies has a long incubation period, meaning that infected animals carry the virus long before it breaks out."

Critics accuse Germany of being too slow to co-ordinate its anti-rabies efforts. Its strategy is now being supervised by Dr Thomas Mueller, head of a WHO laboratory at the German Research Institute for Animal Health in Wusterhausen. He had admitted that German officials "simply forgot" to distribute vaccine by hand in Hessen.

He also conceded that only after EU inspectors went to Hessen was it discovered that the expensive vaccine was not being stored properly, rendering it useless.

While Mr Mueller is optimistic that the disease can be contained, Dr Cliquet believes France needs to brace itself for infection: "I really don't believe they will be able to either eradicate or fully contain the disease this year."

� Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
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