Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Deadly flu strain confirmed in Romania

ON THE MOVE The spread of the virus to Europe is worrying authorities, who have introduced new measures to calm people's fears about the possibility of a pandemic

AP , LONDON AND BUCHAREST

Romania's Agriculture Ministry said yesterday British lab tests had confirmed the H5N1 strain of bird flu had been found in Romania.

Agriculture Ministry spokesman Adrian Tibu said agriculture, veterinary officials were holding an emergency meeting yesterday morning with Interior Ministry officials and local leader to decide how to respond to the outbreak.

The lethal strain was confirmed in Turkey on Thursday.

Officials in the Balkans sought to soothe fears by showing they weren't afraid of fowl.

Romanian President Traian Basescu urged his people to continue eating chicken on Friday, saying his wife is cooking it at home. In Hungary, where the Poultry Product Board reported that the sale of chicken immediately fell by 10-15 percent when the outbreak started, Agriculture Minister Jozsef Graf on Friday ate a roasted leg of chicken at a downtown food market.

The risk of contracting bird flu from handling raw packaged chicken bought in supermarkets is considered negligible, said Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health, adding that no such cases have ever been recorded.

In response to the spread of the virus,EU authorities agreed on Friday on new measures aimed at preventing a lethal strain of bird flu from entering the bloc and moved to calm people's fears about contracting the disease, one day after it was confirmed on the continent's doorstep in Turkey.

Experts say there is no reason to avoid eating cooked chicken because the virus is killed in seconds when the meat is cooked, but such assurances may not assuage the fear of some consumers as concerns spread on a continent with vivid memories of mad cow disease.

The new EU measures, agreed upon after two days of emergency talks, "focus on strengthening biosecurity measures on farms and introducing early detection systems in high risk areas" like wetlands frequented by wild birds, said an EU statement issued late on Friday.

The EU has banned poultry imports from Turkey and from Romania, where bird flu was also detected this week. Officials in the two countries slaughtered more fowl on Friday.

In Turkey, Betul Demirel of Seker Pilic poultry company said the sector had come "close to a standstill" after people stopped eating poultry products. "There is an 80 percent decrease in sales," since the outbreak began, she said.

Turkish veterinary officials in protective plastic suits, masks and goggles were trying to catch the remaining birds in the village of Kiziksa, where the virus was detected, and were trying to persuade villagers who were hiding their chickens to surrender the birds.

Officials carried out medical tests on nine people living in a neighborhood where 40 pigeons reportedly died, but released them from medical observation on Friday after determining they did not likely have bird flu.

The WHO moved on Friday to calm fears about bird flu by stressing that the risk of people getting infected is very low.

Since the outbreak began in Asia two years ago, 117 people have become infected and they were mostly poultry farmers and others involved in plucking and preparing sick birds, handling cockfights or playing with ducks and drinking duck blood.

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