Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Experts meet on halting spread of bird flu to EU

AP , BRUSSELS

EU veterinary experts were expected to endorse new measures yesterday aimed at preventing the deadly bird-flu virus strain H5N1 from spreading westward into the EU.

The European Commission will send EU veterinary and laboratory experts to Bulgaria and Turkey, after both requested help on Thursday, EU spokesman Philip Tod said.

Turkey and Romania this week both announced it had discovered bird flu in the country, though only Turkey confirmed H5N1.

Bulgaria, which neighbors Romania and Turkey, has increased customs checks, banned wild-bird hunting and boosted monitoring of wild migratory birds to prevent an outbreak there.

"In the case of Bulgaria, we will be sending some laboratory and veterinary experts, who will likely leave this weekend," Tod said. "For Turkey, the experts we will send are likely to be specialists in epidemiology."

The veterinary experts were drawn from across the 25-nation bloc, Turkey and Romania.

It was still unclear if the samples taken from Romanian birds would prove to be H5N1, highly contagious among birds but difficult for humans to contract. So far, tests in Romania identified only the H5 subtype, and further tests in Britain would not give results until today, Tod said.

"We are working on the assumption that it is also the H5N1 virus, and all measures have now been adopted with that in mind," Tod said. "Animal restrictions on Romania are now in force."

EU foreign ministers planned emergency talks for Tuesday in Luxembourg to assess how to further coordinate measures within the EU and with other international organizations and countries.

"We want to have international coordination," Tod said, adding that the EU was pushing for a donors conference for Southeast Asian nations to help fight the spread of the virus there.

Despite the rarity of human infection with bird flu, 117 people in Asia have contracted H5N1 in the last two years, and about 60 people have died, most of them poultry farmers infected directly by birds.

Among the precautionary measures being considered for the EU were tighter monitoring and controls on wild migratory birds, bringing domestic birds indoors and, in some cases, vaccinations among flocks.

The European Commission is also considering travel warnings and a ban on hunting in risk areas. Several European countries have banned bird hunting already.

"Each member state will define which areas are at risk and apply the necessary measures to separate wild birds from poultry," Tod said.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou has proposed to set aside 1 billion euros (US$1.2 billion) to help make and distribute anti-viral drugs and vaccines in case of a pandemic.

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