Deadly bird flu strain confirmed in Turkey

Virus also detected in Romania; EU calls for emergency meeting

Updated: 11:48 a.m. ET Oct. 13, 2005
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Turkey has the type of bird flu dangerous to humans and European authorities are working on the assumption that cases discovered in Romania are of the same strain, the European Unionís health chief said on Thursday.

His comments were the first official confirmation that the potentially lethal virus, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003, has now reached southeastern Europe.

ìThe virus found in Turkey is avian flu H5N1 high pathogenic virus,î EU Health and Consumer Protection chief Markos Kyprianou told a news conference.

Britainís chief vet said on Thursday that there was a risk of a deadly strain of bird flu spreading to the UK and an assessment was being carried out to see what further measures needed to be taken.

ìConfirmation that highly pathogenic avian influenza has been found in Turkey and that avian influenza is now also in Romania is of concern. It shows that there is a risk to the UK,î Debby Reynolds, chief vet at the UKís Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told a news conference.

ìWe will now carry out an assessment immediately to determine what the risk is and whether any further measures need to be taken,î she added.

Travel precautions
EU countries should be ready for a potential flu pandemic and should stockpile anti-viral drugs, Kyprianou said.

He said the EU did not yet know for sure whether the cases found in Romania were of the same virulent strain but they were assuming it was, pending final tests.

EU experts on avian influenza and migratory birds will hold an emergency meeting on Friday.

Kyprianou said migratory birds could transmit the virus.

The Commission would advise on precautions to be taken by people travelling to Romania, Turkey and other countries hit by the outbreak such as avoiding farms, he said.

Where is bird flu in Europe?

Bird flu was discovered at a Turkish farm near the Aegean and Marmara seas.

The executive European Commission said it was considering establishing a 1-billion-euro ($1.2 billion) ìsolidarity fundî to help fund the use of anti-virals in the event of a pandemic.

ìWhat is important is that it does become a priority for all member states and that they make an investment for preparing for this event,î Markos Kyprianou told a news conference.

The H5N1 bird flu strain has killed over 60 people in Asia since 2003. Kyprianou said a case discovered in Turkey was of this most virulent type and the EU executive was assuming that another case found in Romania was of the same kind, pending final tests.

Imports banned
Romania also said it had detected bird flu in three ducks that died last week although it was unclear whether it was the same deadly H5N1 strain that that has forced the slaughter of millions of birds.

The European Union on Thursday banned the import of live birds, poultry meat and feathers from Romania after officials there confirmed positive tests for the presence of bird flu.

An emergency meeting of EU veterinary experts was to be held later Thursday to try to determine which strain of flu had been found.

The samples, taken from dead birds in Romaniaís Danube Delta, are being sent to Britain to identify the specific strain.

ìWe hope itís a low intensity virus,î said Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur. ìWe are continuing measures to isolate the affected area.î

Fears of mutation
Experts fear H5N1 could mutate into a virus which spreads easily among humans, creating a pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people.

Romaniaís chief veterinarian Ion Agafitei told Reuters scientists detected the avian influenza virus in samples taken from three ducks which died last week in the Danube delta.

The samples will be sent to a British laboratory, which investigated the bird flu strains detected in Turkey. It could take up to two days to establish the type of virus in Romania, British scientist Ruth Manvell said.

The European Commission said its experts had confirmed the Romanian findings. ìFurther tests are necessary to ascertain if the virus in question is the H5N1 strain,î it said in a statement.

The Danube delta contains Europeís largest wetlands and is a major migratory area for wild birds coming from Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany. The birds mainly move to warmer areas in North Africa including the Nile delta for winter.

Thousands of birds culled
Turkey detected bird flu last Saturday after 2,000 birds died on a farm near the Aegean Sea. Thousands of birds were culled to prevent the virus from spreading and quarantine zones were imposed.

Officials in Romania also announced plans to slaughter thousands of birds to prevent the disease from spreading.

ìWe have so far culled 3,000 poultry and we will continue to do so at a rapid pace,î said Mihai Carciumaru, the mayor of Ceamurlia de Jos in the Danube delta, where the three infected ducks were found last week.

ìToday, we need to cull 15,000 more birds to contain the disease,î he told Reuters. The mayor also said authorities had sealed off the village.

Bird flu began sweeping through Thai poultry flocks in late 2003, all but wiping out markets for what was then the worldís fourth largest poultry exporter.

The Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health also said on Thursday that 3,673 wild waterfowl had died in Iran, but the cause was unclear.

ìNo pathological agent has been identified yet,î it said on its Web site, citing a report from Iranís chief veterinary officer. ìNo post-mortem lesions are seen in the dead birds; weakness and death are the only evidence.î

In Iran, a spokesman for the veterinary authority said no signs of bird flu had been discovered.

ìWeíve done different tests on these birds but we havenít found anything. We donít know the reason,î spokesman Behrouz Yasemi said. ìWe have quarantined the area.î

Posted by loni on 10/13 at 10:56 AM in International

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