CHESHIRE is gearing up for a possible pandemic of bird flu.
At the beginning of this week, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, indicated that bird flu will hit Britain - although not necessarily this winter.
Reported cases have hit mainland Europe in Turkey and Romania.
And the concern is that the avian flu will mutate with human flu to produce a virulent strain of the virus.
Dr Nick Phinn, of Cheshire and Merseyside Health Protection Agency (HPA), said: 'All the potential is there. For the first time in a number of years, there is a candidate disease in bird flu. Contingency plans have been drawn up and have been in place for some time.
'All areas of the country, including our own, are developing responses on how to deal with pandemic flu - for example, how they are going to get anti-viral drugs to people in time.
'We are establishing what will be prioritised and what will not be done.'
The Health Protection Agency will advise on any necessary action to various agencies in the event of a serious outbreak of bird flu.
Dr Phinn added: 'There will be a countywide group convened by the police, with the contributions of a whole series of people including primary care trusts and the NHS - this will be accountable to a regional group and this in turn will report at the national level.'
Poultry farmers have received advice from the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on how to take precautions on avian flu. Any suspected outbreak must be reported to DEFRA and farmers are being advised to keep their animals away from wild birds which may carry the disease.
Carl Hudspith, spokesman for the National Farmers Union (NFU) North West, said: 'The message needs to be got across that eggs and chickens are still safe to eat. Farmers must, however, ensure that drinking water is used only by their poultry and they clean up any spillage of chicken feed.
'The farms should be safe as long as they alert veterinary surgeons to any concerns.
'Unlike the foot and mouth crisis, the animals in question will not be moved around the country.'