Bird Flu Alarm

2006-01-11-Europe ratchets up measures to prevent spread of bird flu

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-01-11-Europe ratchets up measures to prevent spread of bird flu

PARIS (AFP) - Authorities in Europe were stepping up precautions as bird flu lapped against its borders following an outbreak of the deadly viral disease in humans in Turkey.

The continent mobilized as United Nations veterinary experts warned that the H5N1 strain of bird flu that has killed two teenagers in Turkey could become firmly entrenched there and pose a danger to neighbouring countries.

"The virus may be spreading despite the control measures already taken," said Juan Lubroth, senior animal health officer from the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"Far more human and animal exposure to the virus will occur if strict containment does not isolate all known and unknown locations where the bird flu virus is currently present," he added.

European Union countries have already banned imports of feathers, poultry products and live birds from Turkey.

The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, announced on Wednesday it was extending its monitoring of wild birds and poultry until the end of the year and said it would contribute up to two million euros (2.4 million dollars) in funding for laboratory testing.

Experts say they currently have no reason to believe that the virus is being spread from human to human -- it is transmitted to humans from infected birds.

Georgia said it currently saw no reason to seal its border with Turkey, but the foreign ministry said it was disinfecting all of its border posts in a bid to prevent the disease spreading.

And with spring approaching, European countries located on the route for migratory birds are especially concerned.

France said it had ordered millions of extra doses of Tamiflu antiviral treatment as a precaution against a possible pandemic, bringing to 33 million the number of doses by 2007, up from the 13.8 million doses currently available.

A total of 200 million masks to protect health workers will be bought, a parliamentary committee was told Wednesday, and a billion to be worn by infected people to stop them contaminating others. Information leaflets will be distributed to travellers visiting Turkey.

In Germany, Environment Minister Horst Seehofer said it was "highly likely" that the government would issue a new order to keep poultry shut indoors in an attempt to prevent it coming into contact with infected birds.

Italian Health Minister Francesco Storace said his country was setting up a crisis unit which would go into action in the event of an epidemic breaking out.

The head of Britain's leading medical research organisation called for vigilance.

"I think the chance (of bird flu reaching Britain) must be high because birds do migrate," Colin Blakemore of the government-funded Medical Research Council told the BBC this week.

Portugal meanwhile said it was among the best prepared countries on the continent, having ordered 2.5 million doses of medication to treat bird flu, enough for a quarter of the country's population.

And Switzerland said it was introducing heightened measures at airports to prevent wild birds and poultry from Turkey being brought into the country.

Denmark and Norway announced similar measures, while Sweden advised people visiting Turkey to stay away from markets and poultry farms.

Romania, which was affected by bird flu but has not had any cases of human contamination, was discouraging its people from travelling to Turkey.

Bulgaria, sandwiched between Romania and Turkey, is on high alert to prevent an outbreak of bird flu, Agriculture Minister Nihat Kabil told parliament but said that no cases of the potentially deadly disease had been detected so far.

Estonia's veterinary service has begun inspecting the Baltic state's poultry farms for bird flu.

"All poultry farms, irrespective of size, will be checked in January and February to make sure they are not infected with bird flu," the Estonian Veterinary Service said in a statement.

The Czech Republic has also stockpiled enough doses of Tamiflu for 1.7 million people, while Croatia said it was increasing checks on people who had visited Turkey.

Understanding Avian Influenza